Class in Licking Co. will teach neighbors how to spot signs of human trafficking

(MGN/Imagens Evangélicas)
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LICKING COUNTY, Ohio - Human trafficking can be a problem in any corner of Central Ohio.

"Someone may observe something there that looks unusual, or it could be going on in your own neighborhood and you've noticed something isn't quite right,” said Licking County Health Commissioner Joe Ebel.

Ebel points out that human trafficking isn't always sex trafficking.

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“It could also be someone working in a restaurant. It could be someone working on a farm, it could be a construction worker,” said Ebel.

“We've been in the national spotlight for labor trafficking,” said health department employee Mary Richardson.

Richardson says many Licking County residents remember in 2015 when federal investigators raided local egg farms. Several people were charged in the human trafficking operation that brought children from Guatemala to work. The investigation found children as young as 14 were forced to live in broken-down trailers and work 12-hour days.

Ebel says the victims often come from at-risk backgrounds; sometimes homeless youth, people displaced by natural disasters, or people exposed to violence in their homes. Officials said 30,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states.

In an effort to fight the problem, Licking County Health officials are offering classes to help residents spot the signs. The class is free to anyone interested in taking it thanks to federal funding from the Ohio Children's Trust Fund. Ebel said the course is necessary because of the heavily-traveled roads in his county.

“A part of the goal of this grant is to give people ideas of what to look for that might indicate that something's not right,” said Ebel.

He said signs can include:

  • A sleeping bag at a business
  • Rehearsed answers to casual questions
  • Overly submissive workers
  • Small children serving in a family restaurant
  • Barbed wire or bars on windows
  • Malnourishment
  • Bruises

"Maybe they're at risk, disenfranchised, have a drug problem, an immigration status problem, something that people can hold over them for their own benefit,” said Ebel.

If you or someone you know is in danger you can text "HELP" to 233733 (BE FREE) or call 911. The National Human Trafficking hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

The Licking County Human Trafficking Awareness Course is on August 15. It is free, you just have to call the Licking Co Health Department to sign up.

For additional information on human trafficking and ways to report a tip, click here.