ASHTABULA — The possibility of human trafficking exists wherever people live was the message received from local attorney Carmen Hamper, who held a seminar on the subject Saturday at the Ashtabula Public Library.
“People will always try to exploit other people,” she said.
Hamper works on some appointed cases from the Ashtabula County Juvenile Court and has experienced forced youth prostitution cases during her work. She said surrounding communities where migrant labor is a major part of the economy experience it at a deeper level.
Hamper said young people who are vulnerable are obviously the first potential victims. She said the younger the victim, the worse the immediate and long-term effect.
“When people get involved at a very young age they don’t get to develop as a human being,” Hamper said. She said the average age of girls getting into prostitution in Ohio is 13.
Hamper showed several videos detailing the problem and reviewing the options available to fight the problem.
Several trafficking survivors shared their stories through video. An Ohio governmental report discussed many sexual and labor trafficking situations throughout the state.
Hamper said the young people who get involved in sex trafficking often are addicted to drugs, need the money or are lonely.
“I think a lot was a feeling of loneliness and that nobody cared,” she said of some of the survivors in the video and those she has witnessed in real life.
“It becomes a spiral,” she said
Hamper said the traffickers often use violence, psychological control and drug addiction to keep the victims “in line.” She said a “Stockholm Syndrome [protecting an abuser]” can also be a part of the equation.
Hamper said 95 percent of the trafficking victims have been sexually abused in their regular lives before they are approached. She said sometimes the victims are not drug addicts until they are approached and the pimp purposefully introduces them to drugs.
One of the victim’s discussed was 8 years old when she was “sold” by her mother.
“How could she possibly escape that?,” Hamper said.
Hamper and the videos also addressed labor trafficking where people are forced to work long hours with no or little compensation.
Ohio is seen as a vulnerable state because of numerous big cities, many immigrants, major highways bi-secting the state and a proximity to Canada.
“We need law enforcement to know what this [trafficking] looks like,” Hamper said. She said a hotline operated by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center is 888-373-7881.
The state of Ohio also monitors potential human trafficking situations and Homeland Security is involved as well, Hamper said.
“If they get a lot of tips from the same area, they will [respond],” she said.
Hamper urged people to be aware of situations that look questionable and respond to law enforcement and help educate people to the dangers.
A variety of “signs” may point to human trafficking, Hamper said. She said victims’ life stories “may not add up,” they respond with memorized script, won’t answer questions, appear disoriented and display tatoos of “ownership” on their bodies.
She also asked people to get involved with fighting human trafficking through advocacy in the legislative system.