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Human Trafficking: What You Need to Know

by Christopher Harris , Communications Specialist
You may not know it, but the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department has been instrumental to Northeast Ohio in the fight against what is believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world – human trafficking.

The Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, part of the Ohio Attorney General's Organized Crime Investigations Commission, led by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department was formed more than one year ago to combat human trafficking in Northeast Ohio. The task force includes representatives from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis, and Independence Police Chief Michael Kilbane.

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 Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, through collaborative efforts with partners like the FBI and Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, 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, 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:
  • Is not free to leave as he/she wishes.
  • Has few or no personal possessions or evidence of homelessness. May also have no identification.
  • Lack of eye contact or let’s others speak for them. May look to others before answering questions
  • Does not have control over his/her own money. May have no financial records or bank accounts.
  • Claims of just visiting, passing through, and/or the inability to clarify where he/she is staying (Ex: address).
  • Sudden changes in attention to personal hygiene.
  • Uses prostitution-related terms such as: “Daddy”, “The Life”, “The Game”, “Escorting”, “Wifey” or “in-call/out-call.”
  • Branding (tattoo or carving which indicates ownership by a pimp). Usually a name or nickname of the trafficker, but may also include the following:
    • Barcode
    • Playboy Bunny
    • Hearts or Stars
    • Animal Paw Prints

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:

Cuyahoga County Regional 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

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: 24-Hour Crisis and Support Hotline: 216-619-6192 or 440-423-2020 or online chat.