Human Trafficking Awareness Day marked with public vigilance and education

Last Thursday, Jan. 11, the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking gathered a group at Cleveland Public Library (CPL) main branch on Superior Avenue to observe Human Trafficking Awareness Day—designated in 2010 as a reminder of the ongoing collective community efforts to raise awareness, promote prevention, and support survivors of human trafficking.

The date commemorates U.S. Congress’ passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) on Jan. 11, 2000.

“That was a hallmark legislative law that really gave rise to the anti-human trafficking movement in the United States,” explains the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking president and CEO Kirsti Mouncey. “The act says human trafficking happens in the United States—we need to open our eyes. This is not an immigration issue; this is not an issue that happens only in foreign countries.”

Kirsti Mouncey, President/CEO of The Collaborative to End Human TraffickingKirsti Mouncey, President/CEO of The Collaborative to End Human TraffickingMouncey says last week’s event was intended to raise awareness of the existence and the severity of human trafficking throughout Northeast Ohio and the United States.

“This is a crime and a public health crisis in the United States,” she says. “This law gave law enforcement a lot more tools to arrest and prosecute traffickers and sex users. While law enforcement was arresting [people], they found victims, they recovered survivors, and that gave rise to organizations like ours.”

About 60 people gathered at the library to attend the event, where they were first greeted by CPL executive director Felton Thomas. A slate of Cuyahoga County and justice system representatives involved in preventing human trafficking spoke.

Speakers included Sabrina Roberts, executive advisor and administrator of health policy and programs for the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); David Merriman, director of HHS; Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court judge Joan Synenberg, who presides over the human trafficking docket in the County Recovery Court; Cuyahoga Juvenile Court magistrate Holly Welsh, who presides over the juvenile diversion docket, also known as the safe harbor docket; and Martin Uhle, president and CEO of the Community West Foundation.

The Collaborative and its partners, including the Greater Cleveland Coordinated Response to End Human Trafficking team, had tables set up in the library and at various locations around the city, sharing information and resources.

“We had our table there and talked to many, many different people who came through, which is always great for us when we have these initial conversations,” says Mouncey. “Then we hosted a human trafficking one-on-one education training for the general public in the evening.”

Jasmine Myers, human trafficking survivor and program coordinator for the Collaborative to End Human TraffickingJasmine Myers, human trafficking survivor and program coordinator for the Collaborative to End Human TraffickingMouncey says there were about 40 attendees at the early evening training, including a student group from Baldwin Wallace University who formed a campus chapter to fight human trafficking, community members, and representatives with the Safe Harbor Docket.  

The way we approach the issue is, we first tell people what human trafficking really looks like in our community—because there's still a lot of misconception about human trafficking,” says Mouncey of their training. “The title alone, I think, puts up some barriers because it sparks in people this idea that there has to be force of kidnapping someone.”

She says many people have images in their heads of prisons and shackles, which are often false portraits of human trafficking. “We first need to break through that myth of what human trafficking is not, [and then emphasize] that human trafficking is the exploitation of human beings for someone else's profit through force, fraud, and coercion,” she explains. “That has to be present.”

Mouncey explains they try to educate people on what that psychological manipulation looks like, and the Coalition works closely with law enforcement, medical personnel, and hotel staff, as well as the general public, on spotting the signs that someone might be a victim.

Human Trafficking Awareness Forum at the Cleveland Public LibraryHuman Trafficking Awareness Forum at the Cleveland Public LibraryMouncey says they train people to notice people who are only out of their homes for work, or migrant workers in the construction industry who are not wearing weather-appropriate clothing or have the right safety equipment—or people who are extremely timid or avoid engaging in conversations.

“It’s really up to the community to spot these signs,” says Mouncey. “We at the Collaborative provide training and technical assistance to specific industries [to help people spot the signs].”

The Collaborative to End Human Trafficking provided more than 350 monthly trainings, webinars, and tailored trainings to the community—reaching more than 22,000 people last year.

“That really shows us that there is interest, that people are reaching a level of awareness and are now hungry for those next steps,” Mouncey says.

At 3 p.m. K&D Management lit the Terminal Tower in blue in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and around 6 p.m., participants made their way from the library to artist Timothy’s Schmalz’ “Let the Oppressed Go Free” sculpture in Public Square—which will be displayed through March thanks to Community West Foundation and the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.