WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) and his fellow Co-Chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, Reps. Annie Kuster (NH-02), John Katko (NY-24), and Jackie Speier (CA-14), held a virtual roundtable on efforts to combat human trafficking. For this important conversation, Joyce invited Mr. Eric Smith, the Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Cleveland Field Office, to testify. The Task Force was also joined by:
- Ms. Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris,
- Ms. Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls, and
- Eleanor Kennelly Gaetan, Ph.D., Director of Public Policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing forms of transnational crime,” said Joyce. “It’s estimated that over 40 million people are victims of human trafficking each year, resulting in profits exceeding those earned by Starbucks, Google and Nike combined. Sadly, the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated many of the circumstances that allow these crimes to happen. In April, the National Human Trafficking Hotline saw the number of reported trafficking situations increase by more than 40%. All of those statistics go to show how critical any and all efforts to eliminate these crimes are. I’m proud to stand with Special Agent in Charge Smith and our other panelists in their fight to combat human trafficking and will continue to do everything in my power to support their efforts at the federal level.”
“Human trafficking remains a concern for law enforcement and communities nationwide,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith. “The use of the internet remains at the heart of these crimes. The recruitment and subsequent grooming of victims is often accomplished through use of social media. Over time, the applications used by traffickers and their techniques have changed but the premise is the same. Gain the trust of a potential victim, offer them affection, money, or material items and then introduce them to the world of sex trafficking. The FBI remains committed to working with our law enforcement and community partners to identify and prosecute traffickers and provide victims the assistance they need.”
The FBI’s Cleveland Field Office has long worked to combat human trafficking in Ohio, creating task forces in 2006 in Toledo, Cleveland, and throughout northern Ohio to address this issue. Since 2006, dozens of sex traffickers have been convicted on federal and state charges with many receiving sentences of twenty years or more with some receiving life sentences. Over 100 child victims have been recovered as a result of these investigations.
However, human trafficking remains a threat in Northeast Ohio. Many of the children recently located by Operation Safety Net, a joint operation between the U.S. Marshals and local police departments, were victims of human trafficking. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio has ranked as high as fifth among all states in total reported human trafficking cases with Toledo being identified as the fourth highest ranking city in the nation for recruiting victims into the illegal trade.
During the roundtable, Joyce pointed out that while Ohio is the heart of the Midwest, it is also a border state with several points of international entry, including international airports, shipping centers, and numerous ports all along Lake Erie. While these are critical centers of commerce and travel, they can provide ample opportunity to traffic humans and the opioids that have devastated Ohio communities. Joyce asked Special Agent in Charge Smith about the connection he has seen between drug and human-trafficking rings and what the trends are in points of entry for internationally trafficked humans and drugs.
To watch today’s roundtable, click here.
To learn more about Ohio’s efforts to combat human trafficking, click here.