Westerville community learns about human trafficking

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The Westerville community is learning how to spot signs of human trafficking after police busted a local massage parlor for prostitution.

Investigators say they've seen an increase in human trafficking in the area and neighbors want to help keep it out.

"The purpose of tonight is education. What human trafficking, the face of human trafficking is today," Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer said.

A community meeting held at Westerville City Hall on Monday night was about learning human trafficking can happen anywhere.

"I never thought it was going to happen in uh, Westerville," resident Alicia Miller said.i

And police say it is happening in Westerville.

"It's not the stereotypical human trafficking we're used to. A lot of these ladies can come and go, but they are threatened to stay in that environment," Chief Morbitzer said.

Westerville police say in February the department shut down a massage parlor on West Main Street for prostitution and several others have been on their radar.

"One we shut down for prostitution reasons, one we cited for taxation reasons and one that was trying to open up was prohibited because of zoning code issues," Chief Morbitzer said.

Police say they've seen an increase in human trafficking in the area, but it's not just Westerville.

"Powell had a couple cases, I think Dublin's had a couple cases, Lancaster had a couple cases and we're seeing that as the norm now unfortunately in the United States," Chief Morbitzer said.

Human trafficking concerns brought dozens of people to Westerville City Hall.

"Thinking that these women are being enslaved to do that," Miller said.

Neighbors like Alicia Miller wanted to learn how to help.

"Seeing what the community can do when you pull together," Miller said.

The experts who help human trafficking survivors say awareness is key.

"So people need to learn what human trafficking is, how to be aware of human trafficking what are the signs and the services to provide to those survivors," The Salvation Army's Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator Bryttani Barker said.

The community meeting was hosted by the Westerville Police Department, CATCH Court, The Salvation Army, and Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition.

Police say they received so much interest from the community about learning more about human trafficking they plan to hold another discussion.