Healthy New Albany will hold a discussion about human trafficking and how easy it can be for teens to get trapped in such a dangerous and seemingly hopeless situation.
The event is slated from noon to 1:30 p.m. April 14 at the Heit Center, 150 W. Main St. in New Albany.
It is free and open to those who attend in person or in a Zoom meeting. Those who attend in person will be given a complimentary lunch. Registering for online access to the discussion can be done at healthynewalbany.org.
Angela Douglas, executive director of Healthy New Albany, said a year of COVID-19 coronavirus lockdowns, an uptick in drug abuse among teens and more youngsters turning to the internet as a social outlet have created an unfortunate opening for sexual predators.
“I think just being aware of its prevalence is really important,” Douglas said.
New Albany police Chief Greg Jones and Stephanie Rollins of Gracehaven, a nonprofit center for victims of sex trafficking of minors in central Ohio, will lead the discussion.
Rollins, an education specialist for Gracehaven, said the process starts seemingly innocently enough on chat sites: Boys are looking for a cool counterpart, and girls complain about their lives and families. The longer the discussions last, the more trust predators earn with the youngsters and then can lure them to a common place where children are kidnapped or threatened.
Rollins, a survivor of human trafficking, calls it “modern-day slavery” that doesn’t discriminate against color, nationality, age or gender.
“It’s everywhere on social media,” Rollins, 51, said. “Today, this is more common than it’s ever been in our whole lives.
“We have pimps recruiting kids in high school, kids in college, kids in middle school. They are recruiting their proteges.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office 2020 Human Trafficking report, a total of 148 potential victims were identified statewide, including 146 potential victims of sex trafficking and three potential victims of labor trafficking, with one being a potential victim of both sex and labor trafficking.
Eighteen victims were ages 15 or younger.
Statistics from the website indicate that those who abuse drugs or alcohol or have other dependencies are more likely to fall prey to human trafficking.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office website differentiates between human trafficking and prostitution. Although the latter can be considered human trafficking, the former usually benefits a third party.
Rollins said predators can be members of the same household. In addition, she said, people don’t necessarily need to leave home to become victims: Sexual acts can be recorded on cellphones or computers and broadcast to a wider audience.
She recommends constant diligence by parents, who need to monitor what their children are doing online.
“There’s an infinite number of kids available to (predators) now because of social media,” Douglas said.