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Government & Politics

Summit County Faces Unique Challenges in Fighting Human Trafficking

photo of human trafficking conference
The Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking is available to present about the topic at schools.

Several Northeast Ohio groups held a forum over the weekend on human trafficking, and as WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports, Summit County faces unique challenges when it comes to stopping the issue.

The event at the Akron-Summit County Public Library was designed to help people spot victims of human trafficking and included a documentary on the subject.

Jan Apisa is with the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, and says Northeast Ohio -- and much of the rest of the state -- is both a source and destination for trafficking.

“We have people that come here that are trafficked, as well as people who are born and raised here that are being trafficked. We are a state where you can get in and out rapidly. We have an extensive highway system, off-ramps and on-ramps.”

Apisa also says the website Backpage – which has been targeted by Sen. Rob Portman and other lawmakers for advertising trafficked victims -- is still very active despite recent attempts to shut it down.

“We did an extensive research project of Backpage – a three-month period of time – to look at the areas specific to Summit County and Stark County. And we found that trafficking is relevant and very much alive and here in this area.”

Apisa says part of the investigation showed that, while the website has removed its listings for “escorts,” those ads have moved over to the dating section.

She adds that groups are slowly making inroads into schools to talk about the problem -- much as drug and alcohol prevention advocates have been doing for years. Speakers from the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking are available to speak about the issue.