Sojourner’s Truth Staff
During a webinar on Thursday, January 6, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) and the University of Toledo announced a joint initiative to call attention to the ongoing issue of human trafficking and to help survivors.
A program, funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant to TARTA and UToledo, has been organized, including several events in January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
A veritable who’s who of local experts combating human trafficking took part of last week’s webinar, including Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Ohio Senator Teresa Fedoras well as Celia Williamson, executive director of UToledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute and Amy LaGesse, co-chairman of the Lucas Cunty Human Trafficking Coalition.
TARTA CEO Laura Koprowski facilitated the discussion.
Kaptur spoke of the urgancy to impress upon the public the need to be “eyes and ears” to help those who may be victimized by traffickers and learn “how to inform others if we see” instances of possible trafficking.
Erica Krause, from Senator Brown’s office, read a statement from the senator that pointed out that “there is a need to ensure victims have the resources to rebuild their lives.”
Chelsea Golterman, from Sen. Fedor’s office, read a statement from the senator speaking of what she has tried to do legislatively to protect victims during her time in the General Assembly.
“We now hold traffickers accountable,” said Fedor. “We must support survivors without using the punitive criminal justice system [against them.
Along with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Fedor has introduced the safe harbor bill, which would prevent young persons with being charged with prostitution if they were victims of human trafficking. She has stated it is a critical portion of tackling the problem.
“Prostitution is the oldest oppression in the world,” said Fedor.” Who could be against stopping human trafficking?”
Williamson is the founder of the Second Chance program (now called RISE) and the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition; chairs the Research and Analysis State Trafficking Commission, and is a founding member and president of the Global Association of Human Trafficking Scholars. She has been named one of the most influential social workers in the nation.
During her time addressing the issue, Williamson pointed out the numbers of those affected – about one thousand human trafficking victim in Ohio at any given time and about 70 in Lucas County at any given time.
“There are hundreds of kids in our own Toledo area who have traded sex to meet their daily needs,” she observed.
Williamson stressed the need for communities to adopt a village approach “where we care not only about our children but others’ children and see who is manipulating them and who is coercing them.”
LaGesse, of the LCHTC and the FOCUS Runaway Project, spoke of improving the red flags that warn of trafficking; educating oneself on those red flags and establishing an emergency fund for survivors. The current initiative, she noted, has such instructional capability to help with such goals.
Through several events in the month of the January, TARTA and the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute seek to raise the awareness of human trafficking with TARTA passengers and the general public. In addition to information posted on vehicles as well as TARTA’s website and social media channels, events in this collaboration will include:
- Representatives of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition were at TARTA’s Transit Hub on Thursday, January 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., to distribute information and help people know where to reach out if they or someone they know needs help.
- A webinar Tuesday, January 11 from 10 a.m. to noon on human trafficking awareness and the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of survivors, was presented by the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.
- A Human Trafficking Awareness Webinar on Wednesday, January 26, featuring Williamson.
- A training course for TARTA drivers to help them recognize the signs of human trafficking and understand the next steps.
“Through its transformation in recent years, TARTA has stressed involvement in the community we are lucky enough to serve,” Koprowski said. “Caring about our customers and being a part of that community includes recognizing when a member of that community is in trouble and knowing what we can do help.”