By Rachel Gobep
The first human trafficking class is being offered at Youngstown State University this semester.
Susan Laird, instructor in the department of sociology, anthropology and gerontology and manager of the Northeast Ohio Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NEOCAHT), said she is able to combine her two passions by teaching the class.
“There are not a lot of universities in Ohio that offer this, so it’s almost surreal to me,” she said.
Laird said most students in the class want to learn about the “dark side of human trafficking” and what it is really like
She said there are human trafficking victims on YSU’s campus who have met and talked with her.
“We have victims right under our noses … There are traffickers that troll this area,” Laird said.
Human trafficking is defined as the illegal trade of a person for forced labor or commercial sex, with many of the victims being minors.
“This is not just prostitution. This is the second-largest criminal activity, second only to the drug trade,” Laird said.
According to NEOCAHT, human trafficking is “a form of modern-day slavery.”
Ohio is ranked fourth in human trafficking cases reported by state, as cited in the National Human Trafficking Hotline 2017 statistics.
Polaris, a non-profit organization that tracks human trafficking, reported the city of Youngstown as seventh in Ohio for reported calls in 2016.
Dimitra Symbolik, a senior psychology and sociology major and NEOCAHT volunteer, is currently enrolled in the human trafficking class. She said she is interested to learn more about the topic.
“We think of it as happening somewhere else, but just learning about it, it’s a real problem and it’s here,” Symbolik said.
Matt O’Mansky, professor and chair in the department of sociology, anthropology and gerontology, said human trafficking is an important topic to discuss and learn about.
He said he is happy that Laird will educate students through the class.
“It’s something that people are not really aware of in most cases,” he said.
O’Mansky said he knew human trafficking existed in Youngstown, but not the scale of it.
Laird’s role in NEOCAHT is to perform presentations and raise awareness through education.
“If I can get someone to look at a situation that they come upon in their community a little bit differently, then I have a chance of that person making a call to local law enforcement [about possible human trafficking,]” she said.
Laird said there are three ways a person can combat human trafficking in the community: educating, saying something if you see a red flag and volunteering.
Laird said domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking information should be provided to freshmen when they begin their academic career at YSU.
She said she wants students to learn how to protect themselves.
O’Mansky said the human trafficking class is currently being offered as an upper division sociology course, but he hopes it will become a general education class in the future.