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WATCH AGAIN: WKYC Studios' Monica Robins hosts panel discussion on COVID-19's impact on human trafficking

You can stream it on wkyc.com, our Facebook page or our YouTube channel.
Credit: Collaborative to End Human Trafficking

CLEVELAND — WKYC Studios partnered with the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking for a panel discussion addressing the impact COVID-19 is having on human trafficking.

Experts say the pandemic is worsening what is already a troublingly prevalent crime in our state. According to the Polaris Project, which manages the national Human Trafficking Hotline, Ohio comes in fifth in cases reported by state.

The coronavirus is adding complicated layers to the issue, as it causes economic hardships, sends more kids online to learn, and poses challenges in identifying victims and prosecuting perpetrators. All these factors lead to a disastrous reality: a high risk of individuals being exploited. The impact is felt by victims, survivors, organizations, law enforcement and health professionals. 

During the panel discussion, more details on how the pandemic is affecting human trafficking were revealed. 3News Senior Health Correspondent Monica Robins moderated the conversation.

You can re-watch the entire event in the player below:

“The event is especially important because COVID has really isolated all of us. It has isolated survivors from seeking services and it has really isolated us as social providers and systems who usually work hand in hand, very collaboratively, person to person. And, so it is really important that we get together in this event and reaffirm our commitment to doing this collaborative work despite all the challenges we are experiencing,” says Kirsti Mouncey, President and CEO of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. Kirsti was also one of the panelists to be featured in the upcoming virtual event.

Other panelists were:

  • Kathleen Hackett, Pediatric SANE Program Coordinator, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital
  • Detective Jim Mackey, Assistant Director, Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force
  • Karen McHenry, Homeless and Missing Youth Programs of Bellefaire JCB
  • Sondra Miller, President and CEO, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center

January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, and the upcoming panel discussion is just one of the events that the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking is presenting as part of a year-long awareness campaign. Other events include monthly educational webinar sessions.

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which is part of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, also brought awareness to the issue and offered a community conversation on Facebook on Jan. 27. The conversation topic will be on Legal Support for Survivors. For more information, visit the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Facebook page.

“Human Trafficking is real. It exists in our community. It exists in our own backyards. Sometimes we have this notion that human trafficking is something that happens in foreign countries and it doesn’t affect us, it’s not an issue we need to pay attention to because it happens somewhere else. But the reality is that it is an issue that our local community is affected by,” says Kirsti Mouncey.

According to a press release by the Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, last October, law enforcement agencies and non-governmental partners throughout the state teamed up for Operation Autumn Hope. Through this effort to stop human trafficking, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Columbus Police’s PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force rescued over 100 human trafficking victims. And, the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested more than 20 people searching to have sex with a minor.

Although progress has been made, Human Trafficking victims, survivors and care providers need the public’s help to bring awareness to the challenges COVID-19 is bringing to human trafficking.