High risk life: human sex trafficking

By LOUISE SWARTZWALDER - lswartzwalder@aimmediamidwest.com

CLEAR FORK VALLEY — The gift the Clear Fork Valley is being given — growth with more outside firms coming in — carries with it something most people don’t see, or think about.

One threat development carries with it is the sad, sordid fact of human trafficking.

Ohio is number five among United States areas in actual human trafficking events.

Information about this practice was brought to Bellville by Bruce Keller, who recently spoke at an event sponsored by the Bellville Lions Club.

Keller told the Lions the Toledo area is among the top five in the country in that same category.

The unfortunate problem is that two things go together — over use of drugs and exploitation of primarily young women.

Keller said girls 12 and 13 can be exploited by someone who finds them and “grooms” them.

The people who do the scouting for young women might choose a popular place, like a shopping mall, to find those they can use.

A guy could go up to a group of three girls, and pick out not the prettiest or the least pretty, but the “middle” person. He would tell the girl “has anybody ever told you you have the most seductive eyes?”

If the girl walks away, the guy knows she hasn’t bought the line.

But if she “drops her head” and replies “you’re so sweet,” the guy knows he has scored.

Bellville police chief Ron Willey attended the Lions Club event.

He said he knows this area, with development along I-71 and State Route 97, is a “prime location” for the types of people who involve themselves in human trafficking.

Willey said the statistics Keller presented were eye opening.

Lots of people go through this area, including many who come to events at the Mid Ohio Sports Car course.

Willey said Keller told the Lions Club group about one astonishing fact about Super Bowl Sunday.

Keller said that Sunday holds the record of “number one” in sex trafficking events “on the planet.”

Willey said he doesn’t want to compare what goes on at the race course to the Super Bowl, but people should recognize the potential for sex trafficking problems.

The Bellville Police Department promoted a levy asking for a three mill increase in taxes at the last election. That levy passed.

Willey said concern for effects of development partially motivated the need for the levy.

The department has said it wants to hire more police officers.

The I-71 and State Route 97 west intersection has two operating motels, and two others are being refurbished. This is another potential problem area, along with the numerous service station facilities.

It is common for someone trafficking young girls to drop them off at truck stops. A girl is supposed to converse with people in trucks, in hopes of making a connection. A girl can get $400 for an hour’s time.

Willey said the “ruralness or smallness” of the Bellville area makes it more “susceptible” to the efforts of people like those wishing to participate in human trafficking.

A lot of people “think nothing can happen here.”

Keller said the prevalence of social media sites and digital conveniences make it convenient for traffickers to prey on younger girls.

It has been common for some young girls to post nude “selfies” or some other type of information.

A person scouting for girls can use photos found on the internet to identify a child by a logo on a jacket, or maybe the name of a school in a photo.

It is also common for someone who is maybe in his 60s to pose as another young person, and post information about how uncooperative their parents are.

Eventually the older person will suggest some sort of hook up. This can be a party, where young people go. Perhaps there is a 19 year-old guy there. Keller said that is a sure indication that something bad is afoot.

Willey said he recognizes that younger people are “much quicker” to use digital conveniences.

Part of what the police department is seeking to do is use information it has received in some training sessions to help people recognize what should be “tells” about bad behavior.

Though sordid things can be associated with truck stops and truckers, there is a group known as “Truckers against trafficking” who let their concerns be known.

These truckers post a picture of a lizard with a diagonal line through it. This is to let any victims that the truck with that logo could be of help.

The lizard logo comes from the fact young girls who work around truckers are known as “lot lizards,” said Keller.

There is not one profession that is immune from having a connection to sex trafficking, Keller said.

Teachers, coaches, police officers, journalists, businessmen: all could have a connection, he said.

People who are familiar with that trade know that some people have a type of “radar” that will let them know who is vulnerable and could be used.

Keller said he is interested in informing people — including owners of businesses where trafficking could occur — about

things they should recognize.

Sex trafficking is the “fastest growing crime enterprise on the planet,” said Keller.

The only one that exceeds it is drugs; the two are co-dependent.

A young girl of 12 or 13 who gets involved in this king of trafficking has a life expectancy of only seven more years, unless she leaves the trade, said Keller.

Young girls who are in this life can get assaulted, raped ten to 12 times a night. She can then be moved to another state, and repeat the process.

One bad thing about the state of Ohio is that it takes about two hours for a person to leave the state, from any of the high traffic truck stop, motel areas.

This is why Keller wants to be able to inform people so they will now these things: “Here’s what it is. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s what to do about it.”