By Katlyn Kritz
Human trafficking has become an increasingly dangerous threat in Ohio due to the state’s proximity to the Canadian border as well as it being the location of crossroads for major interstates.
Shawn Varso, Youngstown State University police chief, said that Ohio is the fourth-largest state for human trafficking. He said Ohio has mandated professional training for police officers. Two years ago it focused on human trafficking laws and awareness.
Varso said YSU hasn’t faced any issues with sex trafficking, but the YSU police are on the watch for it. He said there are ways to spot a potential threat if a student comes into contact with someone they believe to be in danger.
“Look for individuals who show signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts,” Varso said. “Sometimes they brag about making or having a lot of money.”
Though, this does not mean that an individual showing these signs is a part of a sex trafficking group, but the YSU police ask you to notify them if a student is in a situation that feels off, Varso said.
World Mission Society Church of God is a religious organization that faced rumors of being involved in sex trafficking. The group is also known as God the Mother.
Victor Lozada, representative of God the Mother, said the rumors began on social media. The posts included accusations that the group was a cult and was directly linked to sex trafficking.
“Due to the alarming nature of these false accusations, many users shared these posts, causing the rumor to spread like wildfire,” Lozada said. “As a result, some people of began misconstruing our religious activities as criminal activities.”
He said the rumors have even put members of the group in danger.
“Certain social media users have suggested for people to use pepper spray on our members, assault our members and even shoot our members,” he said. “Members have even received death threats and harassing phone calls at all hours of the night.”
Police investigations have been conducted to clear the group’s name, and in all cases, it was found the Church of God was innocent.
“After speaking with human trafficking experts and law enforcement agents, we have been told that this false awareness is not helping the cause,” Lozada said. “Real human traffickers are using different techniques to get their victims.”
One way sex traffickers may find victims is through dating apps. Casey Elekes, freshman in early childhood intervention specialist, said she believes someone was trying lure her into sex trafficking through Tinder.
Elekes said when she matched with a guy, he quickly invited her to hang out with him, but said his dad required her to call him and confirm she was harmless before they could hang out.
“After that I asked him if he was trying to sex traffic me,” she said. “Then he unmatched me. He did the same exact thing to my friend.”
If students face a situation like this or ever feels like they could be in a danger, the YSU police encourage them to call 330-941-3527 or leave an anonymous report through the YSU police website http://www.ysu.edu/ysu-police.