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What is human trafficking, and how can victims get help?

Did you know that Cleveland is a major hub for human trafficking? Human trafficking is the means by which people of all genders, ages, races, and cultures are bought and sold for free labor and sexual acts. Put simply, it is a form of slavery. Those most at risk are women, children, teens, homeless individuals, immigrants, and children in foster care.  Sometimes people do not realize that they are a victim of human trafficking. In other cases, victims cannot reach help or are afraid to ask for help.

You can help victims of human trafficking just by paying attention. Some common signs of human trafficking include: marks of physical abuse; possession of many hotel keys; an identical home and work address; working long hours without getting paid; and frequently getting new and expensive clothing, jewelry, hairdos, or polished nails that the individual cannot afford. If you suspect a person is a victim of human trafficking, call the police. Do not try to deal with it yourself.

Human trafficking is illegal. If the police arrest someone for trafficking, a prosecutor may charge that person and a court may convict him or her of a crime. The victim has the right to participate in the criminal case and may be required to testify as a witness.

Victims of human trafficking may need multiple kinds of legal help. Victims that are related to their traffickers may need help with a divorce, child custody, or guardianship. The victim may also need help getting a protection order. Human trafficking violates many employment laws; victims may have wage claims or discrimination cases based on the trafficking. Trafficking survivors may need help with public benefits and housing. Lastly, sometimes victims are charged with crimes, such as prostitution, which they can usually expunge.

Many organizations in the Cleveland area help victims of human trafficking.  If you are worried that you or someone you know is being trafficked, call for help.

This article was written by Jessica Weber and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 2.