By Christopher Gillett
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and the Youngstown State University Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a student organization, is starting its club meetings.
Sociology professor Susan Laird, the founder and academic advisor of Y-CAHT who studies human trafficking in Ohio, explained human trafficking.
“It’s modern-day slavery,” Laird said. “There are three elements that must be involved in any situation in order for it to be considered human trafficking: force, fraud or coercion.”
Laird said illicit slavery from human trafficking is worth billions of dollars and impacts many people, especially women. It’s done for either sex or labor. Laird said the best way to combat it is education and awareness.
“I’m ever amazed at the number of folks that will say to me ‘Well we don’t have that problem here,’” Laird said.
Y-CAHT combats human trafficking through events like freedom walks, which are marches to bring awareness to the issue and the club is planning a walk for April.
Alongside community events, the club’s members work to help one another, make connections and donate essentials to survivors.
Gabrielle Shimko, a senior social work major and the secretary for Y-CAHT, said she enjoyed the connections the club brought her from meetings and events.
“It’s [about] making a lot of strong connections with the club, and just having each other’s back when one person’s down, that’ll lift them up. And also the walks, I like being able to go out into the community,” Shimko said.
While many people are familiar with human trafficking, there are many misconceptions about it. Laird said inaccuracies make it harder to study trafficking.
“As long as people support the myths and don’t look beneath the surface it makes [studying] almost impossible,” Laird said.
According to Laird, strangers kidnapping victims to traffic them is rare, and perpetrators are commonly the victim’s family or friends.
“Family is the number one trafficker in the country. [It’s] family members trafficking family members, especially adults trafficking kids,” Laird said. “Especially in the sex trade — this is not about somebody getting taken, it happens but it’s so rare.”
Many victims are manipulated into exploitation due to poverty or abuse. Laird said because many LGBTQ youth are shunned, they are vulnerable to manipulation.
“We identify [LGBTQ youths] as special populations because these are typically youth that when they come out to family they find themselves thrown out of the homes, so now they’re on the street. They find themselves ostracized by a lot of folks in our community,” Laird said.
According to Laird, perpetrators marking chosen cars with zip ties or fliers has never been verified in Ohio. The organization Polaris lists the zip tie claim as a myth. Another common claim is traffickers avoid people with tattoos due to their discernibility. However, Laird said perpetrators will use tattoos for that reason.
“Tattoos are one the things traffickers often use to identify their victims and keep track of them,” Laird said.
According to The Associated Press, traffickers brand identifiable tattoos to control victims. Laird said barcodes or identifiable terms are also used on victims.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is (888) 373-7888. Laird recommended supporting Polaris and Shared Hope, organizations which study and combat the issue.
If interested in Y-CAHT, find it at @ysu_caht on Instagram and [email protected] Meetings are every other Wednesday from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Bresnahan Suite at Kilcawley Center. The next meeting will be Feb. 8.