Human Trafficking: What You Need to Know

by Christopher Harris , Communications Specialist
Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force QR CodeThe Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, under the purview of the Ohio Attorney General’s Organized Crime Investigations Commission, was formed to combat human trafficking in Northeast Ohio. The task force is led by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department and is comprised of several agencies including the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, Cleveland Police Department, MetroHealth Police Department, East Cleveland Police Department, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of human slavery that includes forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking. It affects everyone – U. S. citizens, foreigners, women, men, and children.

Human trafficking is NOT what you see in Hollywood…

Hollywood movies often portray human trafficking as a criminal act that occurs overseas or that people are “snatched” off the street and forced into slavery. This is not the case. The misrepresentation of human trafficking in the media has caused confusion among the public because portrayals are inaccurate or oversimplified.

But human trafficking doesn’t occur in my city/suburb...

WRONG. Human trafficking occurs here in Cuyahoga County. This includes the city AND the suburbs. It affects all demographics and social classes. Therefore, the Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, through collaborative efforts with federal, state and local partners along with Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and many other non-profit social service organizations, remain committed to ending human trafficking.

How are victims recruited?

Unlike the Hollywood portrayal of victims being snatched off the street, victims are heavily recruited on the internet and popular social media apps. Apps like Facebook, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, Snapchat, Grinder, Kik and others are used to troll in search of new victims. What may start as a “Like” or “Friend Request” can lead to becoming a victim of human trafficking.

What are the signs of human trafficking?

Human trafficking victims may exhibit the following physical/behavioral indicators:
  • Refuses to make eye contact. May look to others before answering questions.
  • Is not free to leave as he/she wishes.
  • Accompanied by another person who is controlling and often speaks for them.
  • Appears submissive, anxious, fearful, tense, nervous, depressed, paranoid or hyper-vigilant.
  • Lacks knowledge of travel plans, the destination, and/or current location.
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other states, cities or towns.
  • Claims of just visiting, passing through, and/or unable to clarify where he/she is staying.
  • Clothing that is revealing or provocative and/or inappropriate for the weather.
  • Has few or no personal possessions or evidence of homelessness.
  • No ID (or ID is being held by another person).
  • Attitude is resistant, defensive, rude, evasive or aggressive.
  • Does not have control over his/her own money. May have no financial records or bank accounts.
  • Has items (jewelry/cash) which appear they cannot afford.
  • Signs of scars, injuries, infections, fatigue or other evidence of poor hygiene.
  • Branding (tattoo, burn or carving of a name or symbol which indicates ownership by a pimp).
  • Uses prostitution-related terms such as: “Daddy”, “Wifey”, “The Life”, “The Game”, “The Track”, “Escorting” or “in-call/out-call.”

What can I do if I know or suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking?

If you know someone or suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, you can contact any of the resources below:

Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force:
24-Hour Hotline: 216-443-6085

Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department:
Tipsters can call our Detective Bureau or submit a tip online.
Detective Bureau: 216-443-6130

Cuyahoga County Family Justice Center (Witness/Victim Service Center):
All services are free and private.

75 Erieview Plaza, 5th Floor
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
Phone: 216-443-7345

Project STAR, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: 24-Hour Crisis and Support Hotline: 855-431-STAR (7827)