Every human trafficking victim has a different story of how they were sold into the sex trade or forced into domestic servitude, but their stories all start in the same place — vulnerability. And as Ohio State Representative Teresa Fedor said, “What girl isn’t vulnerable at 15?” Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo social work professor who has studied human trafficking since 1993, says, “So, if you look in these towns and say to yourself: ‘Is there illegal drugs being sold here? Is there illegal guns being sold here?’ Why wouldn’t there be people being sold here? Because they are so respectful of your community that they would skip your community and say, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to sell here. The police force is too strong in Mansfield, so we’re not going to.’ No! Matter of fact, that’s where it grows. It grows in places of ignorance.”
The women of Zanesville’s stories, and the stories of women across Ohio, look a lot like EleSondra “El” De Romano, of East Toledo’s journey. After enduring years of abuse at the hands of her birth family and foster family, De Romano was trafficked by pimps, including her own father. After finally escaping from that life of sex trafficking and drug abuse, De Romano became active in reaching out to other victims and survivors.
De Romano said she doesn’t want sympathy for what she went through. She wants people to have sympathy for the girls still being trafficked and hopes her story can help them through tough times. “God took me through what he took me through to get me to where I am today, to use me as a tool to educate and help people, to say that, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’” she said.
Learn more at Jessie Balmert’s Mansfield News Journal article: The sex slave next door: How human trafficking happens near you.