In early December, a new initiative named Eyes Up Appalachia was formed to help educate residents in Appalachia Ohio about human trafficking and how to prevent future cases. Eyes Up has since forged a partnership with the Foundation for Appalachia Ohio to provide funding for the initiative's projects.
Prior to foundation of Eyes Up, nearly half of the 32 counties in Appalachia Ohio were not represented by a human trafficking prevention coalition.
With residents of the area experiencing many of the risk factors for human trafficking, those being inadequate housing, poverty, substance use, lack of education or opportunity, and interaction with multiple government systems, it is of particular importance to inform the public about the warning signs.
Eyes Up founder Christi Bartman spent years working as the program director for the public admin, public policy and legal studies areas for American Public University System, an online university based out of West Virginia. During her time there, she worked on the periphery with Teresa Fedor of the Ohio General Assembly on human trafficking legislation and awareness.
Once her career enabled more freedom for exploration, Bartman began to look further into the issues that survivors of human trafficking face.
"After listening to survivors talk and the folks that were working these areas, the two big problems were housing and a lack of anti human trafficking coalitions in Appalachia Ohio and specifically southeast Ohio," she explained.
Bartman discovered that while the area had an absence of anti human trafficking groups, there were an abundance of coalitions targeting other major issues such as opioid addiction, substance abuse, and suicide. She began attending meetings of the Gallia County Coalition for Prevention and Recovery and eventually gave a presentation to them. Since then, a subcommittee has been formed called the Gallia CPR Human Trafficking Collaborative with a reach that extends into Jackson, Meigs, Vinton and Lawrence counties.
The importance of working at a local level on this specific issue is not lost on Bartman," This work needs to be local. The resources are local. The people are local." She explained that this is due to the fact that human trafficking is community driven, meaning that the issue will look different depending on the area.
In southeast Ohio, familial trafficking is more common than other forms.
"It's not the stand on the street kind of trafficking, it's families trafficking their kids for drug money and things like that," stated Bartman. This kind of trafficking is hard to detect due to the "what happens at home, stays at home" mentality that keeps victims from coming forward. Victims can feel shame about what has happened to them or fear that if they report that someone in their family is trafficking them, there could be negative consequences for the entire family.
Due to her years of background in this area, Bartman has the ability and connections to act as a middleman to connect local groups to state level resources.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about the reception. There are so many people that are working with the vulnerable populations of Appalachian Ohio and they have just welcomed me with open arms."
Data on human trafficking can be tricky to decipher as much of it comes from calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888. According to their statistics, Ohio is ranked consistently as the fourth or fifth worst state for human trafficking in the United States. However, not every call made into that number is a victim reporting a case of trafficking. Some of the calls are made by community members looking for resources to help those they think are victims of trafficking. On top of that, local numbers also exist to help survivors meaning those cases wouldn't be recorded with the data collected from the national number.
Certain risk factors exist that make someone more vulnerable to becoming a victim of human trafficking. Substance use is often a tool in the facilitation of sex trafficking. If a victim is already using substances and is addicted, they become an easier target for those looking to manipulate them using substances as bartering chip. Grooming young victims by getting them addicted can help increase the traffickers control over the victim as well.
Not all human trafficking occurs for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking occurs when someone is held against their will in order to perform work for profit of another.
An example of this occurred in Lima, Ohio at Trillium Egg Farm in 2014 where Guatemalan workers were recruited for labor. The employers then took possession of the deeds to their families homes as leverage to keep them employed. Identifying documents were taken and the workers were threatened while kept in extremely poor living conditions.
Red flags that a person is being sexually trafficked include:
- submissive, nervous, or scared behavior
- inconsistent stories when asked about relationships with the trafficker or their living situation
- inappropriate dress or dishevelment
- expensive new gifts such as technology or jewelry
- presence of a controlling male or female in their orbit
- evidence of emotional abuse
- lack of control of their own mobility
In regards to labor trafficking, warning signs include:
- appearance of living where they are employed
- transportation supervised by employer
- lack of control over identification documents
- earning below minimum wage
- indebtedness to an employer
- malnutrition and signs of abuse
For those who are survivors or those who suspect that someone they know is being trafficked and need help, contact the local crisis helpline for the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program at 740- 591-4266. If there is an imminent danger, call 911 before reaching out to SAOP. The National Human Trafficking Hotline can also be called at 1-888-373-7888. Above all, be that trusted person that a survivor can come to when they need it.
To those who have survived being trafficked, Bartman stressed that you are not alone and there are people out there who want to help.
If you suspect someone you know is a victim of trafficking, Bartman says being available to that person once they are ready is the best thing you can do, "If it's simply that person needing a friend, needing someone they can lean on and trust... just be that trusted adult that builds that relationship that they can come to if there is a problem."