The Sex Slave Next Door: How Human Trafficking Happens Near You

By Jessie Balmert on June 30, 2013 for—
“She has run away from home. She has been abused by her relatives. She has been performing poorly at school and is depressed.


Every human trafficking victim has a different story of how they were sold into the sex trade or forced into domestic servitude, but their stories all start in the same place — vulnerability. And as State Rep. Teresa Fedor said, “What girl isn’t vulnerable at 15?”

This month, FBI agents arrested four Ashland residents accused of forcing a 29-year-old woman with cognitive disabilities to perform manual labor inside their two-story home. Authorities report the woman and her 5-year-old child were beaten, threatened with large snakes, and forced to live in a padlocked room with a large iguana.

It’s easy to assume this is a Toledo problem, a Columbus problem or even an Ashland problem, but people who lived and study human trafficking know it’s everyone’s problem.

Drugs, guns and human trafficking are the three largest and most profitable criminal enterprises, said Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo social work professor who has studied human trafficking since 1993.

“So, if you look in these towns and say to yourself: ‘Is there illegal drugs being sold here? Is there illegal guns being sold here?’ Why wouldn’t there be people being sold here? Because they are so respectful of your community that they would skip your community and say, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to sell here. The police force is too strong in Mansfield, so we’re not going to.’ No! Matter of fact, that’s where it grows. It grows in places of ignorance.”

About 1,078 Ohio children are sold as sex slaves each year and an additional 2,879 are susceptible to sex trafficking, according to a 2010 report on the Prevalence of Human Trafficking in Ohio. Ohio ranked ninth in the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s 2011 calls for potential human trafficking locations.

A report, released Thursday by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, listed 30 investigations into human trafficking statewide since legislation increasing penalties for the crime was signed in 2012. Only 11 police departments reported statistics, and seven cases resulted in convictions.

In the report, DeWine said cases were underreported by prosecutors and police officers getting acquainted with the new law.

Alice Adkins, founder of Hope Outreach, a Zanesville nonprofit dedicated to helping prostitutes and drug addicts, estimated she sees 21 pimps and prostitutes on the city’s streets each year — and that doesn’t include people selling services online and behind closed doors. However, people in Zanesville have little tolerance for prostitution and rarely see it as human trafficking, she said.

“I think people need to realize that most of these girls, they are the victim, if not a victim of the pimp who has lured them out, they’re a victim of the drugs. They’re a victim of their dad or uncle or some other person of authority that sexually abused them when they were growing up,” Adkins said.

The women of Zanesville’s stories, and the stories of women across Ohio, look a lot like EleSondra “El” De Romano, of East Toledo’s journey.”

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