When human trafficking first became a recognized term, it was a commonly held belief that this was a problem happening in far off places of the world. People wanted to believe that maybe it was happening somewhere, but that it doesn’t happen here. Movies and media confirmed these beliefs, with stories of kidnapping highlighted in the headlines and theaters alike.
However, as we have explored the ins-and-outs of this crime, we have found a difficult truth. What we thought was ‘out there’ is in fact right here.
It is Happening Here
In our second episode of the RAHAB podcast, our founder Becky Moreland explained that she did not know the issue she was diving head-first into was human trafficking. At that point in 2002, human trafficking was not even a legally recognized term, nor was it a common term in regular vocabulary.
After learning what human trafficking was and hearing a testimony from a survivor, Becky was able to recognize that many of the women she was building relationships with were in fact victims and survivors of trafficking. She realized that she would have to address this issue directly.
Human trafficking became real right before her eyes and she found herself looking directly at its victims. After realizing this, serving trafficking survivors became a focus of her ministry work. Advocating for survivors remains RAHAB’s focus today.
As RAHAB has expanded over 20 years, we have met countless survivors. We have heard their stories and have taken part in educating our communities on this prevalent issue.
In my own 2.5 years of working directly with survivors, most survivor’s stories I heard lived locally and were trafficked locally. They weren’t transported across state lines or national borders, but were exploited right here in Ohio.
The Consequences of Ignoring Trafficking
We know the three ingredients to trafficking are a vulnerable person, an exploiter, and a buyer. This means that not only are there victims and survivors right here, there are also traffickers and buyers. They will not be brought to justice unless their crimes are recognized.
Often when we explain that human trafficking is happening right here, there are questions, doubts, and remarks of surprise. It challenges our perception of our community, what and who we think we know, and invokes fear to think that this crime is happening right under our noses. It gives us a sick feeling in our stomach and makes us want to turn away, look the other direction for fear of discomfort.
Yet there are very real consequences of ignoring the facts and insisting it doesn’t happen here. If we are actively avoiding the problem, we will never find the solution. This problem will continue to grow, its networks strengthening. People will continue to suffer in our own communities.
If we choose ignorance, we choose violence. We choose to let people suffer under the hand of evil. For if we turn our heads, refusing to believe these people in our community are suffering, we are allowing that suffering to continue without remedy.
Human trafficking has become ingrained into our culture without notice. Primary mediums of exploitation like strip clubs and pornography sites are places millions of people visit on a regular basis in our country.
Imagining these mediums as harmless, or believing that your local establishment is the exception, allows for human trafficking to run rampant and unchecked.
We know from experience that when you know the signs of human trafficking and are looking out for them, you begin to see people rescued and healed. If we, as a culture, country, or community, choose to believe it doesn’t happen here, then we are shutting the door to any kind of restoration. We are intentionally leaving hurting people in the dark.
There is Hope
We can longer say it doesn’t happen here. Human trafficking happens right here. At RAHAB we have seen it with our own eyes. Our staff and volunteers have walked alongside women and children as they have fought hard for freedom—physically and spiritually. We have met them on the streets and in the clubs and in court. We know them and we know their stories.
Yet all of this is not without hope. The tools to become educated, to grow awareness, are at our fingertips. We have seen restoration and success firsthand. We have faith that God is moving in NE Ohio. He is a God of restoration, and He is in the business of setting people free. We can choose to partner with Him and see this issue for what and where it truly is. We can eradicate trafficking.