Discussing human trafficking

Members of Y-CAHT. Photo courtesy of YCAHT Youngstown Coalition Against Human Trafficking on Facebook.

By Daniel Shapiro
Jambar Contributor

Human trafficking is an issue on college campuses across the United States. With some students having less support away from home, there is an increased risk of being trafficked.

Shawn Varso, Youngstown State University police chief, explained what human trafficking is.

“Human trafficking is usually taking individuals, restricting their freedom by an individual, [and] taking advantage of them.” Varso said. “[Traffickers] usually use these individuals for sex work, that type of industry and they pretty much control the individual’s life.”

Susan Laird, a sociology professor at YSU, is the advisor of YSU Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Laird said human trafficking can be compared to slavery.

“Human trafficking is, simply put, modern day slavery. It is trafficking another human being for some type of labor or sex, and it must involve an element of force, fraud or coercion,” Laird said.

According to the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, half of human trafficking victims are children. Any youth involved in commercial sex acts are considered victims of trafficking and do not have to prove force, fraud or coercion.

Thousands of human trafficking cases occur each year in the United States. Laird said some minorities are more vulnerable to being trafficked.

“We see many [cases]. About 80% are females. A little under 20% are males, and now [we’re] starting to track members of the LGBTQ community,” Laird said. “Eleven to 14 [year olds] nationally is the highest population being targeted.”

There are multiple types of trafficking, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking, where people are exploited for work.

“In labor trafficking, the victims tend to be older, young adults over the age of 18 usually,” Laird said.

To prevent being trafficked, Laird said students should be aware of their surroundings and who they spend time with.

“You have to know the person or the people you are hanging out with. I think on our college campuses, most of our students do know who they’re with,” Laird said. “If somebody comes up and approaches somebody and wants to date them or wants to be involved with them or offers them a job, and it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Laird said.

According to Laird, it’s important to know the signs of trafficking. She said a common tactic used by traffickers is to show a want for intimacy early in a relationship.

“If somebody comes with a lot of empathy, understanding — they shower you with gifts, they want to engage with you in an intimate relationship, or they know where you can make a lot of money fast — those are all warning signs,” Laird said.

Varso said a caring relationship can quickly turn into a dangerous situation when it comes to trafficking.

“You have to be aware of your relationships with individuals. They may start out as a caring victim, giving them things — and then all of a sudden, it will turn,” Varso said.

According to Varso, anyone aware of a human trafficking case at YSU should contact campus police and the national human trafficking hotline.

“There are various agencies in Mahoning County that they can get in touch with. We do have a human trafficking task force that is located in Mahoning County,” Varso said.