Many recent posts on social media have claimed that human traffickers are following people around stores. A local expert discussed what people need to be aware of in the Valley.
Although it is possible for traffickers to snatch victims at random, YSU professor Susan Laird says the situation is unlikely.
“A large portion of those are absolutely just sensational kinds of stories that go viral because people think that’s how it happens,” Laird says.
Laird is the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She says victims being taken at random is one of the misconceptions people tend to have.
Although it does rarely happen, she says traffickers target the vulnerable.
“In the area, we call it the Romeo trafficker, the one that pretends to be the boyfriend and ‘I can solve all your problems and lead you to a better life.’ That is huge in our area. Family trafficking family members is also huge in our area.”
Laird says that usually starts with family members needing money for rent or their drug habit.
In the 2017 Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Report, alcohol and drugs topped the list of factors contributing to a victim being trafficked. Other factors include runaway or homeless status, undocumented status and oppression and marginalization.
She runs a support group for women at the Trumbull County Jail.
“Most of them, if not all of them, have some type of habit, and many of them told me that their drug trafficker is trafficking them for sex. You can buy a drug once, you sell a drug once. You can sell a girl 100 times,” she says.
In the report, there were 208 potential victims of human trafficking in Ohio. Of those, 193 were female victims.
“Traffickers know they can walk into a crowded room and they can see which, especially young ladies. We know that there are young men that get involved, but they know exactly which ones are isolated and vulnerable.
Trafficking victims can be as young as 11 years old.