By Christine Bryant
Would you know if you saw it?
That was the question posed to students at a Reynoldsburg High School Livingston Campus assembly earlier this week aimed to increase awareness about human trafficking – an epidemic that has vaulted Ohio to the fourth ranked state in the country with the highest number of human sex trafficking cases.
It may be an issue far from the minds of the teenagers who filled the seats in the auditorium, but for members of the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition, it’s an important issue close to home – and one they are working to bring into the spotlight.
“Brice Road is the hottest spot in Columbus for underage sex trafficking in the metropolitan area,” said Cornelius McGrady, III, who founded the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition. “When I first started this in 2008, it was the west side of Columbus.”
Law enforcement officials say main thoroughfares through Columbus, such as I-71 and I-70, make Columbus a prime target for human sex trafficking cases. In fact, last summer, investigators rescued six underage girls who were being forced to exchange sex for money in hotels located along Brice Road.
Ohio State State Representative Hearcel Craig, who spoke at the assembly, said he doesn’t want students to be afraid, but he does want them to be prepared.
“Human trafficking is very real,” Craig said. “It’s affecting more than 1,000 Ohio children every year and more than 3,000 are considered at risk.”
The program, which featured several students who are members of the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition, aimed to show students how to spot a human trafficking victim. Many human traffickers spend time to befriend their victims – preying upon them over time to earn their trust. Much of this preying – up to 70 percent – occurs over social media, something advocates said students must be vigilant about preventing.
In Ohio, the most common age for children to become victims of trafficking is 13. According to the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the number of Ohio children who become victims each year could fill a large high school.
“There are so many obstacles students face today – this shouldn’t be one,” state school board member Stephanie Dodd said.
In 2015, the Ohio Liberator Awards honored the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition for its work, awarding it first place in the student group category. The awards honor individuals or groups involved in fighting against human trafficking, and the group’s goal is to increase local human trafficking awareness and prevention, especially among students.
Members urged their fellow classmates to watch out for signs of human trafficking in their schools, such as witnessing a student have numerous school absences, have an older boyfriend or girlfriend, have tattoos that appear to be branding by another person and exhibiting signs of abuse such as bruising.
How to report human trafficking
•National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888,
•Text BeFree (233733) for specialized victim services referrals or to report the situation. Confidential Online Reporting Form-Polaris Project www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip,
•Call local police department,
•Call 1-866-347-2423 (Homeland Security),
•Report online at www.ice.gov/tips,
More information at humantrafficking.ohio.gov.