Keeping Kids Safe

Human trafficking: A growing problem fueled by technology

Keeping Kids Safe, human trafficking, Mahoning Valley

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WYTV) - Human trafficking can only be described as a form of modern-day slavery. Cases of it have been reported in all 50 states.

This means children and adults can still easily become a victim of the sex trade -- some kids are too young to even know it.

Last week, the FBI shut down Backpage.com, saying the website contributed to the problem.

Backpage.com has been under investigation for years over claims that the site facilitated sex trafficking. It allowed users to post ads for escorts, but investigators said many of them were actually underage boys and girls.

"The thing about predators and the internet itself is that there's so many different ways to commit crime now," said Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene.

Brian Hudzik, the Region 4 director of the National Association of Social Workers, said it's a growing problem.

"Unlike drug dealing or arms dealing, you can only sell one of those items once. You can sell a human being over and over again."

Backpage is just one contributor to the problem of human and sex trafficking.

Hudzik said in many cases, the victims aren't choosing to do what they're doing.

In the Mahoning Valley, investigators focus part of their efforts in high-traffic areas like the I-80 corridor in Austintown as well as online, using sites like Backpage to find and arrest those involved in the sex trade.

Hudzik, who works to advocate for those victims and survivors, reminds parents that technology has advanced.

"It's not hard for a child to stumble onto a graphic website," he said.

"You might think you're talking to someone that's your age, but they're able to cloak themselves in anonymity," Greene said.

Advocates feel the FBI's seizure of Backpage is a win. However, Hudzik said we have to be careful.

"I think if we stay consistent in battling this, it shows the perpetrators that...our communities aren't going to tolerate that."

The Harriet Tubman Movement, a nonprofit that provides resources to victims of sex trafficking, said the short-term goal for them is safety. The long-term goal is restoration and figuring out a path toward it.

The agency connects victims with residential treatment programs and drug rehab facilities.

We walk beside them and allow them to create their own path.

Whether Backpage exists or not, the presence of sex trafficking in our Valley will remain strong. But we are fortunate to have such a skilled task force dedicated to finding and prosecuting the traffickers and identifying and rescuing victims."

Resources:

The Harriet Tubman Movement

RAHAB ministry for prostituted women

Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking


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