25 Apr 2012

Striving to End Sex Trafficking

Author: Rebekah Dyvig | Filed under: Enterprise Story, Localizing story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor

By Rebekah Dyvig 

Over 1,000 American born youth in Ohio ages 12 to 17  are sex trafficked each year according to the 2010 Ohio Trafficking Commission. Toledo is ranked fourth in the nation for the number of sex trafficking arrests, investigations and rescues.

Programs across Ohio are raising awareness about sex trafficking and building rescue homes for victims, hoping to reduce the number of sex trafficking cases each year.

The top cities in the nation for sex trafficking are:

  1. Miami
  2. Portland
  3. Las Vegas
  4. Toledo

Source: Ohio
Trafficking In Persons Study Commission (2010)

 At the age of 15, Theresa Flores was drugged and raped, beginning her life of sex trafficking. Having been raised in a Christian home, Flores wrote in her testimony on her website, she decided to not tell her parents what had happened because she thought they would get angry.

Flores found a way out of sex trafficking, but it was not until two years ago that she began counseling for it.

 “I went to a conference about sex trafficking and realized that was me,” Flores said.

Flores said her path to healing has not been so much with counseling but through journaling, reading self-help books and the support of church family.

Flores is a licensed social worker and the director of training and education at Gracehaven.

Theresa Flores, a former sex trafficked victim, is raising awareness about sex trafficking. Photo courtesy of Theresa Flores.

Gracehaven is a nonprofit organization based in Columbus, Ohio that focuses on raising awareness for sex trafficking, educating and training the general public and rescuing trafficked victims.

Over the past three years, Gracehaven has been working on opening a house outside of Columbus for 10 sex trafficked girls.

After being in sex trafficking for a while, it’s hard for girls to fit back in to a normal lifestyle which is why Gracehaven is opening a rescue house.

Three years Jeff Wilbarger was reading the book “Not for Sale” by David Batstone about sex trafficking and when he felt called to help the girls in the area that are caught in sex trafficking, and started The Daughter Project.

The Daughter Project, a nonprofit organization in Toledo, Ohio, is raising awareness about sex trafficking and opening a house in Bowling Green, Ohio that will house six sex trafficked girls.

Wilbarger hopes to open the house this summer, but is waiting for the group home license application to be approved by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

To help combat sex trafficking in Ohio, Flores started the S.O.A.P. project which stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. It strives toward putting bars of soap in hotel rooms with the sex traffick hotline on them so girls who are in trouble can call for help.

Churches are helping combat sex trafficking through the S.O.A.P. project. Chad Current, pastor of Living Hope Church in Dayton, got his church involved before the basketball tournament in Dayton.

“We started getting ready about two years ago,” Current said. “We had all age groups helping; the teenagers were really getting involved.”

“We are trying to help people become aware of [sex trafficking] in our state,” Current said. “We are one state without a harbor law. Minors are treated as the criminal instead of the victim. We need to change that mentality.”

Rep. Teresa Fedor introduced the “Safe Harbor for Exploited Children” act to legislation in June 2011. The act will protect children who are victims of human trafficking. Under the current law in Ohio, minors who are victims of sex trafficking are arrested as prostitutes, even though they cannot legally consent to sex.

If the law is passed, minors would be given appropriate services and would not be charged with solicitation. Other states have already enacted the safe harbor legislation and the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act that was enacted in 2000 contains safe harbor provisions, and with this bill Ohio would be in line with federal law.

Sex trafficking awareness groups are asking everyone to write letters to the legislature, to help pass the safe harbor bill.

“Many people think it is just international victims, not actually people born here,” Tasha Perdue said. “They have a misconception of sex trafficking.” Perdue is a member of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition in Toledo and works in the department of social work at the University of Toledo.

She has done a lot of research on sex trafficking and worked with Second Chance Toledo while studying for her master’s degree.  Second Chance Toledo provides treatment and recovery to sex trafficked women and girls and to help them heal from the trauma of trafficking.

“It normally takes 12-14 months of counseling before the girls are ready to be on their own. We have to help change the way they are thinking and help them deal with trust issues,” Trisha Smouse said.

Smouse is the Anti-Human Trafficking coordinator at the Salvation Army in Columbus, which is the coalition manager for the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore that rescues trafficked victims and provides them with counseling and help.

LeAnna Pickerel graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2011 with a degree in middle childhood education and specialized in math and science. After graduating, she decided to stay in Bowling Green and work on raising awareness for sex trafficking on the BGSU campus.

Pickerel attended the Price of Life event at Ohio State University in the spring of 2010. After attending Price of Life, Pickerel said she was burdened to help with sex trafficking.

Price of Life event is an annual event held at Ohio State University that informs students about sex trafficking and raises money for non-profit organizations that are working with sex trafficking, including Gracehaven.

Pickerel went to Passion 2012 in January and felt even more drawn to help raise awareness for sex trafficking.

Passion is a Christian conference held at the dome in Atlanta each year for college students ages 18-25. The theme for this year was human slavery and the conference was raising money to help end slavery.

“I think there is a small pocket of people who are aware of the problem of sex trafficking in the area,” Pickerel said. “But the vast majority has heard it but is uninformed and not interested in it because it hasn’t impacted them. I want to impact them.”

BGSU students watched a video on sex trafficking in February at an event Pickerel held in Prout Chapel. Photo taken by Rebekah Dyvig.

Pickerel plans to have a weeklong campaign on the BGSU campus this fall to raise awareness about sex trafficking. She currently has a core team of six students who meet each week to draw out her vision and build a foundation for her plan.

Anyone interested in helping raise awareness about sex trafficking can contact LeAnna Pickerel at: leannapickerel7@gmail.com

She plans to have different activities throughout the week leading up to the final night, when she will bring sex trafficked survivors in so students can hear real stories from them.

“I want to get BGSU and the community involved because it is such a big, local issue,” Pickerel said. “Together we are a force for good.”



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One thought on “Striving to End Sex Trafficking

  1. Teddie Livingston Says:

    Great story! This information was very interesting. It was great you were able to talk to someone that actually experienced something so devastating.