How did we come to be the Tusc Against Trafficking Coalition? Some history…
The Human Trafficking Response began gaining traction on the Federal level and was recognized nationally in late 1990s; the first United States Laws aimed at addressing Human Trafficking were passed in 2000.
“The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000; created the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking, with a significant focus on the international dimension of the problem. The law provided a three pronged approach: prevention through public awareness programs overseas and a State Department-led monitoring and sanctions program; protection through a new T-Visa and services for foreign national victims; and prosecution through new federal crimes.” (Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org)
However, the United States could not avoid the data and statistics that reflected the number of domestic individuals involved in Human Trafficking, particularly those in the Commercial Sex Industry. It is estimated that 1 million women in North America have been prostituted and most prostituted persons were victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse (National Task Force on Prostitution, US Dept. of Justice). In 2005, Ohio was placed on the Human Trafficking map, following an FBI sting, “Operation Precious Cargo” in Harrisburg, PA, when FBI agents broke up a sex-trafficking operation involving 151 females. Toledo, Ohio gained attention as a center for recruiting young girls into the sex trade when 78 of the victims were identified to be from the Toledo area, including a 10 year old girl. This got the attention of Toledo’s State Representative, Teresa Fedor of the 45th District Ohio’s Governor, John Kasich, and Attorney General, Richard Cordray. Shortly after, Representative Fedor and others began introducing legislation requiring law enforcement to have Human Trafficking Training and in 2009 and 2010, both the Ohio House and Senate passed legislation defining Human Trafficking and mandated a Human Trafficking Study Commission. In the months that followed, both, the Attorney General and the Governor created multi-disciplinary team responses to this growing and complex issue. In the months and years since then, additional legislation has been passed to both protect victims of human trafficking including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, increase training and education. Recommendations by the Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, included the creation of a Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinator, use screening tools in Ohio’s agencies- especially OMHAS and correctional facilities, develop public awareness campaign and partner with the Ohio Network of Child Advocacy Centers to better serve minor victims of trafficking. Attorney General , Mike DeWine continued this work and developed a strong Coalition with members from non-profits, politicians, law enforcement and concerned citizens; and the Attorney General’s office has made Victim Services dollars available to assist with the service and care of identified victims of human trafficking. Ohio’s Departments of Public Safety, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Education, Health, Job and Family Services and Developmental Disabilities all created a Human Trafficking Prevention Plan in 2013-14.
In the fall of 2011, the National District Attorney’s Association, the Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Centers, the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, The Child Protection Center of Ross County, the National Children’s Alliance and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention convened the Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and presented one of the earliest presentations on Protecting Juvenile Victims of Human Trafficking to Ohio’s Child Advocacy Centers and Multi-Disciplinary Teams. In 2012 – the Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force specifically identified the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to partner with the Ohio Network of Child Advocacy Centers be part of plans to serve minor victims of trafficking as victims of child abuse, requiring a multi-disciplinary response. This was followed by specific dollars from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to provide support to Child Advocacy Centers that were serving child victims of human trafficking.
In September of 2013,the Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center took a team of local child serving professionals to Columbus for a 2 day training on the Investigation and Prosecution of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking hosted by the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Persons, the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, the National District Attorney’s Office, the Ohio Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. In 2013 and 2014, regional representatives from Child Advocacy Centers began meeting and talking about how to involve our local communities in identifying victims and increasing awareness among both child serving professionals as well as the public at large. All the while, the Governor began mandating agencies across the State to receive training or encouraged initiatives against Human Trafficking as part of their professional licensure renewals – this initially included law enforcement – the Department of Public Safety, Highway Patrol and the Ohio Trucking Association , and grew to include the Ohio Board of Cosmetology, Casino Control Commission, the Department of Education, Department of Health, Ohio Department of Job and Families Services including Children’s Services and Medicaid, Ohio Department of Youth Services, Ohio Department of Alcohol , Drug Abuse and mental Health Services, and correction officers, first responders and the list continues to grow. Additional trainings were hosted all across the State of Ohio to better identify and service victims of Human Trafficking.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Tuscarawas County Child Advocacy Center and COMPASS Rape Crisis Center, as well as some others, provided opportunities for Human Trafficking Trainings with our community partners as well as began to provide trainings on Human Trafficking to other agencies requesting that training. However, early trainings across the State struggled to provide an image of what Human Trafficking looked like in rural Ohio, and how its presence differed from the larger, urban areas of the State. Of further concern, in 2014, alarming information was being released by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the office of Refugee and Resettlement reporting that Tuscarawas County had become the 3rd leading placement of Unaccompanied Minors in the State of Ohio by that Office, only behind Franklin and Hamilton Counties. Tuscarawas is the 30th sized County in the State, so these figures represented disproportionately high number of youth being placed here. Further investigation found that little to no vetting of the children’s “sponsors” was done, and less follow up in checking on the safety or situation these children were placed in, and no notice to Children’s Services or the Child Advocacy Center were given to assist with follow-up or safety. As of March 2018, over 350 Unaccompanied Minors have been placed in Tuscarawas County.
While developing a collaborative community training in early 2016 with Strasburg Schools, Community representatives from Strasburg Local Schools, COMPASS, Personal and Family Counseling Services, including Harbor House, Family and Children’s First Council, and the Child Advocacy Center began meeting to increase conversations around Human Trafficking in Tuscarawas County. Following this training, these organizations recognized the need for a more formalized process and began to meet regularly and invited others to participate. New and involved members included the Tuscarawas County Sheriff, Children’s Services, Latino Cultural Connections, Leadership Tuscarawas and Toward the Goal Ministries; and this group organized their efforts and became known as the Tuscarawas County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Initially, the “mission” was: “We are a partnership committed to creating a better understanding of human trafficking and its impact in Tuscarawas County by gathering information, assessing needs and educating the community.”
The Task Force offset out to accomplish some specific goals, including:
Gather relevant statistics and data around Human Trafficking and related concerns from LOCAL organizations – we made a start with this today and are looking for a few more pieces of information at will help us send an accurate message;
Evaluate the knowledge level and experience around Human Trafficking issues of local service providers – including Law Enforcement, mental Health, medical, probation and children service workers, court personnel and victim assistance program and others;
Determine the need &/or direction for the development of a Coalition;
Determine the service providers and professionals that are interested in receiving training;
Develop/Deliver trainings for those organizations likely to come into contact with a HT victims;
Identify the services available to victims now – especially LOCAL, but also Statewide partnerships and National resources and where there are gaps.
The Task Force met monthly and gathered information, compiled data, created a pinch card with local information and a matrix of services along with outlining formalized agency commitments with participation forms. New partners include – Tuscarawas County Departments of: Juvenile Court, Health Department, Public Library, Board of Developmental Disabilities, as well as Union Hospital – Emergency Department, the FBI, New Philadelphia Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Uhrichsville Police Department, East Central Ohio Educational Service Center, Starlight Enterprises, Community Mental Health, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and The Village Network and the list is continuing to grow. The Tuscarawas County Anti- Human Trafficking Task Force held monthly meetings throughout 2016 and 2017; and was able to name, Jocelyn Hamsher of Toward the Goal Ministries as our Task Force Coordinator. This leadership provided the Task Force with a person to keep the members on track and moving forward. The Task Force hosted a large Human Trafficking Training on August 24, 2017 for over 150 of the Counties first responders and service providers at Kent State University. This training was sponsored by the Tuscarawas County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and was presented by Sophia Papadimos, the Ohio Human Trafficking Coordinator and Maria Busch, Anti-Trafficking Program Specialist, both of the Department of Public Safety; Suzanne Lewis-Johnson and Debra Hughes-Butts of the FBI; and Benjamin Kearney, Ph.D. of Ohio Guidestone and a panel discussion that included Jeff Bray of Latino Cultural Connections and Chief Michael Goodwin of the New Philadelphia Police Department.
Following the community training, the Task Force held an advanced training for its committed partners on the building and development of a comprehensive Community Response. Multiple activities resulted from this training including the development of three subcommittees to continue to move the work of the Task Force Forward. These committees include – Community Response, Organizational Education and Public Awareness. The Task Force is now meeting Quarterly, with Sub-Committees meeting monthly. The Community Response Committee is working on creating a formalized community response which includes helping individual agencies in the development of their internal protocols and policy development as well as eventually creating a Community Wide Protocol. The Organizational Education is taking a “brown bag lunch” appropriate to meeting with and educating organizations that want more information on Human Trafficking, especially those that may have contact with potential victims. The Public Awareness Committee is working on creating a webpage and social media presence along with participating in general public informational trainings in partnerships with churches and civic organizations.
The Anti-Trafficking Task Force also became a project for the 2018 Leadership Tuscarawas Class; this group of motivated and committed community individuals of Andrew Reeves, Mariann Harding, Phebe Stull and Wendy Slates helped the Task Force develop a marketing plan including a new name – “Tusc Against Trafficking” and a beautiful new logo – projecting hope.