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Advocates in the area on Monday said those who engage in human trafficking victims can claim victims as simply as meeting someone at a shopping mall.
“Gee, you’re really pretty, I can get you a job as a model. Let’s move to Atlanta,” said Northeast Ohio Coalition on Rescue and Restore co-director Isabel Seavey said, giving some examples of lines that could be used to lure potential human trafficking victims. “And a week or two later, they find themselves being prostituted.”
Last year, officials shut down eight massage parlors in Warren, including the Gemini Health Spa on U.S. Route 422. Police twice raided a massage parlor in Braceville that reopened under different ownership.
Lawmakers said at one point, Trumbull County was home to about 40 percent of the state’s massage parlors believed to be fronts for prostitution.
State Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, said the area’s proximity to major highways, including the Ohio Turnpike, attracted the businesses.
“Easy on, easy off. No one will know I have been here and you’re only an hour from home, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Canton,” Letson said.
The NEOCRR in recent years pressed officials to crack down on human trafficking. Now, they’re supporting passage of House Bill 130 in Columbus, which they believe will make it easier for suspected victims to testify against operators of alleged illegal spas.
“It makes the penalties stiffer for anyone trafficking a minor, anyone under 18,” Seavey said.
Advocates said the problem could worsen as the improving economy bringing more business to the area.
“This would in all likelihood allow more human trafficking to occur in hotels and motels in the area based on the increase for demand,” said Brian Hudzik of NEORCC.