CLEVELAND — WKYC Studios and the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking are teaming up to present an upcoming virtual panel discussion addressing COVID-19’s impact on human trafficking and informing the public on how to spot the warning signs of this crime.
According to the Polaris Project, Ohio ranks fifth in human trafficking cases reported by state. Although it’s clear that a sizeable number of cases are being reported, even more work needs to be done to bring awareness to the issue, especially during the pandemic.
“What we have seen with the Task Force, some of our tips have gone down, we know [Human trafficking] still exists,” says Jim Mackey, assistant director of the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force and a panelist in Thursday’s program. The drop in tips, he says, may be due to a lack of eyes out there actively looking to see if someone needs help.
Experts who take part in the panel will discuss the many reasons why the pandemic has heightened the risk for human trafficking. For instance, out-of-school youth are spending more time online and unsupervised, and adults who have lost their jobs and are unable to pay their expenses may be vulnerable to survival sex and labor exploitation.
And this is why the public’s help to bring awareness to the issue is needed more than ever.
“Law enforcement does not operate in a vacuum. And when you talk about human trafficking – it is a crime that has a potential to affect every type of person from race, religion, sexual orientation, education, social economic status – it can affect everyone,” says Mackey.
Since the crime doesn’t just affect one part of the population, law enforcement needs the public to pay attention to what may be happening to your family member, a friend, or a coworker.
So how can you check on a loved one? Here is what Mackey suggests:
Have you noticed a family member or friend missing virtual meetings for work or social events? If so, check in with them. If you can have a discussion with them; do so without judgment. Offer them support. You can connect them with mental health and other social resources. If there is a human trafficking concern, contact the Task Force or the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Project Star.
More warning signs about human trafficking will be broken down during the upcoming panel discussion.
Join our efforts to bring awareness to this problem by streaming and sharing the panel discussion on Thursday, Jan. 28 from 6:30 to 7p.m. 3News Senior Health Correspondent Monica Robins will moderate the discussion. You can stream it on wkyc.com or watch it on WKYC Studios’ YouTube channel or Facebook page.