According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Ohio is ranked No. 4 in the country when it comes to reported human-trafficking cases, but Ohio State University student organization Why Us? is looking to bring awareness to this terrible issue.
Why Us? brings attention to the alarming rise in human trafficking throughout the state. The group aims to spread awareness of human trafficking on college campuses.
While it is a relatively new organization on campus, it has made early strides and hopes to make more that will leave a lasting impact at Ohio State University. “We didn’t feel like there was an organization doing so,” Ray’Chel Wilson, vice president of Why Us?, said. “Although there are many great anti-human-trafficking organizations, we just wanted to be a force of our own against human trafficking.”
In its short time as a student group, Why Us? was recognized at Mahogany Moments, Ohio State’s annual 40th Annual African American Heritage Festival, for outstanding student organization. Its main goal is to spread information on the rising threat specifically on college campuses, as well as help people prepare for human-trafficking-related situations, but the group is also open to collaborating with other student organizations. “We do try and obtain strategic partnerships. The group held a rally earlier this year,” Wilson said. “It was one of my favorite events with Why Us?”
The organization also had Barbara Freeman, founder of The Freeman Project, a nonprofit organization that provides counsel and resources to human-trafficking victims, and Elaine Richardson, professor of literacy studies, as guest speakers, both of whom are survivors of human trafficking and have worked with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Wilson said that when more people are aware of the problem, more cases will be recognized and reported in the state, and more laws will be passed to criminalize human-trafficking acts.
In a recent report from the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, more than 300 people in the state were victims of sex trafficking, about 25 were trafficked for hard labor, and another eight were trafficked for both purposes. “On the surface, it sounds bad, but the reality is, we know that human trafficking is taking place in every community in our country,” said Teresa Stafford, Senior Director of Victims Services and Outreach at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. “Being ranked so high means Ohio is identifying survivors of trafficking.”
Victims can come from any socioeconomic, racial, or geographic background, she says, and anyone can be a victim of trafficking. Why does Ohio have so much trafficking? There are a lot of reasons, experts say. “We have a lot of, five major highways, connected to Ohio. We also have a demand for services here in Ohio, unfortunately. We have a lot of strip clubs in communities. We have a need for, even for labor trafficking, with having a lot of farmland here in Ohio. The demand is just here for certain type of things,” said Stafford.
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