CLEVELAND, Ohio (WKBN) – A new effort to combat human trafficking was launched Thursday in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The Coalition to End Human Trafficking says they’ve learned that trafficking follows crowds. During the NBA finals, more than 60 people were identified in Cleveland as human trafficking victims.
The group expects even more victims to pop up during the RNC.
Renee Jones runs a rescue in Cleveland for trafficking victims. She says most victims are taken when they’re between the ages of 12 and 14.
“It’s all about the money, and it’s our duty to protect our youth,” she said.
Part of the campaign will be placing billboards throughout town and on the backs of buses. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the effort Thursday in Cleveland.
A portion of the campaign is being funded through a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant awarded to the collaborative by DeWine as part of the “Ohio Attorney General’s Expanding Services and Empowering Victims Initiative.”
“It’s a good opportunity, I think, to explain to people that human trafficking is not something that occurs in other countries. It occurs in every city in the United States,” DeWine said.
Karen Walsh, with Coalition to End Human Trafficking, says community involvement is needed in order to succeed.
“Those victimized don’t self identify. They don’t know what’s being done to them is a crime,” she said. “They are afraid, and they are ashamed. They think they may be treated as the criminal, so it’s something that we have to help each other with.”
The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office has trained several police departments on how to help victims of human trafficking, but the Cleveland Police Department is not one of those agencies. The department says it will begin its training in 2017.
Police are taught to rescue the victim first and look for the pimp later, according to Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Detective John Morgan.
“The trafficker will be there. If your victim isn’t taken care of, you can’t go after the trafficker,” he said.