January is human trafficking awareness month, and at 2 p.m. Monday we hope you'll watch the live stream of the 2019 Human Trafficking Forum on wkyc.com and on our WKYC Facebook page. You'll be able to ask questions of our panelists including two amazing survivors who are going to educate us on an issue that often happens in plain sight. It’s an important issue because Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for human trafficking cases.
We want to warn you—some of you may find the details of this story disturbing.
“Layla” may not be her real name, but her story is very real. She’s a survivor of human trafficking, sold for sex by someone she thought loved her.
"He would make me crawl into a wooden makeshift box that he put together with plywood," Layla told us. "I wasn't in a motel, I wasn't in a home, I was in a dead end alley."
She was forced to take drugs to knock her unconscious, then men paid money to do unspeakable things to her.
“There were some nights I didn't know if I was gonna see daylight,” she recalled.
Layla wants people to understand that Human Trafficking doesn’t discriminate. She was 47 when this happened to her.
She finally escaped and made her way to Cleveland where resources at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center are helping her seek treatment for the trauma she endured.
Tenisha Gant-Watson was just 19 when she was taken across state lines and forced to do things that eventually got her arrested and incarcerated.
"But that saved my life because I was able to get away," she said. "He said to me if you were to die today no one would ever know."
She took her experience and turned it into a lifesaving beacon of hope for women who escape Human Trafficking, the Jordan Community Resource Center, named after the biblical river Jordan that those in bondage had to cross to reach the land of Canaan.
"I was determined to have a safe place for women to be able to go to heal so that they can be better mothers because if we can change the direction of one woman we positively impact an entire generation,” Gant-Watson said.
The Jordan Center provides housing, addiction and trauma therapy, life skills ,and helps women transition back into society. Gant-Watson is living proof that it’s possible.
“I tell (the women): If I did it, you can do it,” she said.
The Jordan Center exists with the help of donations, and on Apr. 13 they’re holding a fundraising event. A Time for Healing is a modern ballet production that reflects the personal journey of women who have survived in the face of human trafficking and opioid addiction. For tickets, click here.
Both women will be part of the WKYC.com live stream event with the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. They want people to learn more about a crime they likely don’t realize they see.
“If you see a woman that's with someone that's twice her age and she looks like a deer in the headlights, ask the question. because many times it's not as easy or simple to get away as you think that it is because you feel trapped,” Gant-Watson said.
Layla adds: “It can happen anywhere, and it can happen to anybody.”
To learn more about Human Trafficking in Ohio, here’s a link to the 2017 Ohio Attorney General’s Office report.