YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – When many people think of human trafficking, they imagine a person being kidnapped and forced into a world of abuse.
It has taken a new form, however.
What officials are seeing are victims being hooked on drugs and then forced into a life of prostitution and sexual acts.
Judge Renee DiSalvo is beginning a program through Youngstown Municipal Court, which is designed to help victims of human trafficking.
“When I took the bench, the task force approached me and said, ‘“Look, this is a problem.’ This was not on my radar, and when they showed me the amount of victims that there actually are, it astounded me,” Judge DiSalvo said.
She says Ohio is one of the highest-ranking states for human trafficking. A report by the National Human Trafficking Hotline ranked Ohio as the fourth worst state in the nation for human trafficking.
“A lot of people think human trafficking is — and we’ve always said this — the truck coming over the border with a bunch of women in it… and that does happen. However, locally here in Youngstown, you see the girl standing on the corner, just like a regular prostitute, but there is a trafficker nearby,” said Officer Kelly Jankowski, of the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force.
Although men can be victims of human trafficking as well, DiSalvo said it is mostly women they are seeing.
Women are lured by traffickers who may be kind to them in the beginning, but traffickers also prey on their weaknesses. Often, they target women who come from broken homes or a history of abuse and poverty.
The trafficker will provide them with basic needs, such as food and shelter. Then, the trafficker will hook them on drugs.
Once the women are hooked on drugs, they are then forced into prostitution by the trafficker.
“They’re hopeless. They’re hopeless; they feel that there’s nowhere for them to go,” Judge DiSalvo said.
Judge DiSalvo describes this as a new modern-day slavery.
WATCH: How is human trafficking affecting victims in our area?
Because of the high dependency the drugs cause, many of the women are not able to make clear decisions.
Jankowski says in the beginning, they may feel that the trafficker cares about them and is taking care of them, but at some point, that feeling turns into fear. She said this can defer them from seeking help.
“They don’t trust anyone, and also the fear. The traffickers instill such a fear in them. You know they’re gonna go after their families, their children, things of that nature. So, they’re in fear of their trafficker, so they don’t wanna talk to us,” Jankowski said.
There is also a stigma that surrounds the victims.
Often, victims of human trafficking are not looked at as victims, but instead as prostitutes and criminals. This can make it harder for them to be forthcoming and trust police or society.
WATCH: Criminals or victims? The stigma behind human trafficking
Judge DiSalvo believes the GRACE Court she is in the process of beginning will help reduce, if not end, the human trafficking problem in our area.
“Every person deserves, every person deserves a chance to live a full and complete, a healthy life,” Judge DiSalvo said.
When a person comes before the court, they will be given the opportunity to go through the GRACE Court program. There are different stages and it can take up to two years to go through.
The GRACE Court will have a treatment team available for victims. They will be offered help getting their GED, mental health treatment, rape crisis intervention and more.
DiSalvo also said some women may be moved in secret to protect them from any harm.
For more information on the GRACE Court program you can watch the video above.
The GRACE Court has not yet begun, but DiSalvo said she currently has a similar intervention program in place until then.
If you need help with human trafficking, you can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force at (330) 480-4940.