Several dozen people gathered in downtown Springfield Saturday to participate in a walk designed to raise awareness for victims of human trafficking and child exploitation.
Some of those that participated held signs that addressed human and child trafficking, including slogans such as “Save our Children” and “Speak Up.” Some in the crowd also chanted “see something, say something,”as they walked in the downtown area.
Participants were addressed by organizers of the event as well as two representatives of local organizations that work with victims of human trafficking.
The event was organized primarily by area residents Brittany Drake and Megan Watson.
Both Drake and Watson said that they became more aware of issues related to human trafficking and child exploitation this year and wanted to share information such as what signs to look for and the reality of human trafficking versus any misconceptions associated with it.
Watson said she has learned that child victims are more likely to be trafficked or abused by family members or people they trust. Both of the organizers said that another goal of the event is to educate the community on local resources available that aim to help victims.
Representatives of local organisations that work with human trafficking victims or have information regarding those issues were asked to speak at the event.
That included Safe Harbor House, which provides residential long-term after care to women, including victims of human trafficking. Another local organization that was represented was CitiLookout, which aims to provide trauma relief and other related services to those in the community.
Carin Ronk attended the event on behalf of Safe Harbor House and said her organization houses about 20 women each year. She said a large majority of the women that they work with have been trafficked and or recovering from substance use disorders.
She said that human trafficking is taking place in Springfield and in Clark County and that her organization works with women from all over the state.
“There is definitely a lot of misinformation out there. Especially right now for some reason. We are kind of seeing a surge. I think it is important for people to just not use social media as their news source per say but to fact check things,” Ronk said.
“Human trafficking, sex trafficking is an industry that is constantly in flux. You need to stay up to date with current trends. Misinformation can distract us from the real issues and how to really combat this. It is important to make sure we are getting information from good sources,” she added.
Stephen Massey, with CitiLookout, said walks like the one held on Saturday are important in raising awareness.
“Children don’t have a say in what goes on. They don’t have a say in the matter. It is kind of like a mandate,” Massey said. “We are charged to make sure that we do something to help the children and shed light and awareness to child exploitation and human trafficking.”
Massey said it is important to notice signs in potential victims such as sudden mood changes, lost in appetite or becoming more withdrawn. He said the coronavirus pandemic can limit a potential victim’s contact with teachers or counselors who may be able to better detect the signs.
He added that those seeking more information should look at governmental initiatives geared towards fighting human trafficking as well as data from the Ohio attorney general’s office.