Realities of Human Trafficking Among Teens

The lucrative trade in people is profitable with tens of billions of dollars at stake.  Girls 14 to 16 years old are most in demand, the “gold standard,” said Celia Williamson, professor of social work at the University of Toledo in Ohio, who has worked with trafficking victims for 20 years.

Several Ohio organizations are working to combat this problem. The Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County, Ohio complements the educational work of the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, a six-year-old effort of organizations and congregations of women religious spanning northern Ohio from Youngstown to Toledo. Both efforts focus on education and raising awareness of the dangers of trafficking. Many presentations occur in schools because children are the most vulnerable to exploitation. The Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition and Second Chance, a program of Toledo Area Ministries that assists exploited women, have identified hundreds of victims since 1993.

Toledo has a reputation for its intense effort to reach out to victims. “The truth is we made noise. We told people about our family secret and we decided we were not going to keep the secret. We began asking for help, developing reports, doing research and bringing forth services for victims. And people started looking for victims and started finding them,” Williamson said. “If you believe victims are there, you will look. If they’re really there, you’ll find them.”

The challenge for victim advocates, however, is finding adequate shelter once trafficking survivors are discovered. Nationally, few places exist that specifically focus on the needs of sexually exploited people. One such place is The Daughter Project, a year-old program in suburban Toledo. Jeff Wilbarger, a mathematics teacher, felt God called him to start the program, Williamson said the best arrangement, especially for teenagers, is a return home, where family relationships can be rebuilt and the prospect for running is greatly reduced.

Nationwide, Catholic Charities agencies have begun to identify more trafficking victims among shelter residents and have started stepping up efforts to meet their needs, said Candy Hill, executive vice president for social policy and external affairs at Catholic Charities USA. The challenge of maintaining a continuous flow of services, specifically designed for each individual trafficking victim, remains and the likelihood that a victim will run is always present, according to Hill.

She said the agency, in cooperation with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, surveyed diocesan agencies to determine what services are offered to trafficking victims. The goal is to identify victims’ needs and develop solutions to help end the cycle of exploitation that has characterized so many lives.

Learn more at Agencies address realities of human trafficking among teenage victims.

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