The mother became uncomfortable and wisely decided to test her suspicions by “walking in areas of the store that guys usually wouldn’t go.” They followed. After some time of repeating this, she talked with the store staff, who then escorted the woman and her children to her car.
Before the police were called. though, the men took off.
Law enforcement agencies have received reports of a suspicious white van in the parking lots by Kohl’s and the nearby Walmart.
These are indicators of possible human trafficking activity, according to the Huron County Emergency Managament Agency (EMA).
Due to the prevalence and increasing danger in this area, the EMA recently hosted a human trafficking seminar.
“It is getting closer — that was one of the reasons we brought this here,” 9-1-1 coordinator Tacy Bond said. “Kohl’s — that rumor is true. They don’t know 100 percent if that (was human trafficking), but they think it was. It is closer.”
After that incident, Kohl’s staffers walked customers to their vehicles when they were leaving the store after dark to ensure their safety, Bond said. They did that for about a week.
Ohio ranks fourth among the 50 states in human trafficking prevalence, according to seminar presenter Sister Mary Kuhlman from Sisters in Shelter. Toledo is the fourth-highest ranking human trafficking site in the nation. Sisters in Shelter, according to its website, “offers safe, emergency housing for adult female survivors of both labor and sex trafficking and provides education to the general public about the realities of human trafficking.”
“She (Kuhlman) said Toledo and Cleveland, but Sandusky is the same way — you have (U.S.) 250, you have (Ohio) 2,” Bond said. “It’s scary. We’re an hour between Toledo and Cleveland. It’s happening in Toledo and they’re No. 4; we’re not that far off.”
Human trafficking victims are used in sex trade, work trafficking and organ trafficking.
Disturbing national, regional statistics
Around the world, there are 29.8 million trafficked slaves, up 17,500 of which are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
In the United States, 100,000 children and teens are being trafficked in the sex trade each year, according the US. Department of State’s data.
A recent study showed that about 2,879 youths born in Ohio are at risk for commercial sex trafficking, while another 3,437 foreign-born Ohio citizens are at risk for labor and/or sex trafficking.
This country “exports as many people as other countries do and we import as many as other countries,” Kuhlman said.
It’s estimated 1,078 youths have already been sexually exploited in last last year. The average life expectancy for a child forced into sexual slavery is just seven years.
“They are either beaten to death, contract HIV or AIDS or meningitis, or they overdose on drugs that are forced on them,” Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman said some of the women and girls whom she has helped through Sisters in Shelter revealed what their lives were like. The girls said they could have men visiting 10 to 12 times a night. One girl, who needed to go to the emergency room, began to cry when a doctor asked her if she was sexually active and if so, how many partners she’s had in her life time. She asked Kuhlman how she could tell the doctor that she’d been with more than 100 people in a month.
“Sometimes 30 times a day they were sold,” Kuhlman said. “It’s worse than drug trafficking. For those drugs, they can only sell them once. But for somebody’s body — they’ll pay over and over again.
“It’s worse than murder. They murder the inside of these gals ... it destroys their inner beings.”
‘Be on the lookout’
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal operation in the world — second only to drugs, which often goes hand-in-hand with human trafficking, Kuhlman said.
“Almost 30 million people in the world are bought and sold daily,” she added. “A lot of parents traffic their own children. They can’t pay their bills or they need that next fix, so they’ll start selling their children.”
Bond said she’s already made it a habit to speak with her two children about the dangers and told them to stay near her in the stores.
As fast as you blink, “someone can grab them, take them out the door and they’re gone,” Bond said.
“And I hate to say it, but I’d rather my kid be dead than to go through what those girls go through,” she added. “That’s worse than death. You’re dying over and over and over again.”
Convicted human traffickers face a first-degree felony with a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, Kuhlman said.
“That’s not enough,” she said. “I’d have them go for life for what they do to these (people).”
Both women said everyone “should be on the lookout” and try to notice anything suspicious. If you see something, say something, they urged.
They also offered suggestions about how people can protect themselves.
“Usually where people are acting suspicious, there’s usually a reason behind that,” Bond said.
“Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, usually your gut is the first to realize it. How many times have you been in a store or talking to someone and something just doesn’t feel just right, there’s something shady with it? If you get that little ‘spidey sense,’ that sixth sense — go with it.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” Bond added. “When you’re going out to your car, make sure your keys are in your hand. Scan the parking lot, looking under your car as you’re walking up.
“Have your phone in your hand and your keys in your hand, with your finger on the fob’s alarm button to where you can make a lot of noise if you need to.
“And don’t bury your head in the sand and think it doesn’t happen here, because it does,” Bond said.
Victims and those who want to report suspicious activity can call 888-3737-888 or text “help” to Be Free (233733).