HUMAN TRAFFICKING A PROBLEM EVERYWHERE: OSU RESEARCHER
If human trafficking, be it for sex or labor, sounds like something that only happens in other countries, listen more closely.
"This happens every day to millions of people around the world"—including in the United States, Dr. Jacquelyn C.A. Meshelemiah told a Bluffton University audience March 22 at Bluffton’s annual Women’s Studies Forum.
Discussing what the title of her talk termed "A Modern-Day Slavery," the associate professor of social work at Ohio State University said human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Of the more than 12 million people trafficked worldwide, 600,000-800,000 cross international borders, with an estimated 14,500-17,500 of them trafficked annually into the U.S., said Meshelemiah, who researches the issue.
In 2007, 83 percent of the 1,229 identified human trafficking incidents in the U.S. involved sex trafficking and, according to Human Trafficking Reporting System statistics, about two-thirds of alleged trafficking incidents involve children 17 or younger, she said. One million of all people trafficked worldwide are in the child sex trade and at any given time, she added, 100,000-300,000 American children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
Not only is Ohio not immune, it is a magnet for the problem, the Cleveland native maintained, noting Toledo’s unwanted status as the third largest city for child prostitution in the nation. That’s due in part, she explained, to its easy highway accessibility and many runaways—two of the same factors she cited as making Ohio appealing to traffickers overall. Among the others she pointed out are the state’s numerous truck stops and welcome centers, adult entertainment industry, conventions catering to men, large number of immigrants and easy access both from Mexico and to Canada and the eastern U.S.
The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, adopted in 2000 and reauthorized three times since, has helped the fight against trafficking through its focus on prosecution, prevention and protection, Meshelemiah said. In that legislation, for example, the government said for the first time that children could not be considered as voluntary participants in prostitution, she said, labeling that as "an important caveat" in the law.
But other legislation, particularly immigration laws that she called discriminatory, has the opposite effect, she asserted. If more immigrants could come to the U.S. legally, there would be less danger of them being exploited, argued Meshelemiah, also a licensed social worker.
Critical services for foreigners who become trafficking victims include language interpreters, help with reintegration or repatriation and immigration assistance, she said. They, and all other victims, need a long list of services topped by housing and food, cash assistance and protection and safety, as well as mental health and family counseling, medical care and education and vocational development, she added.
"I find no peace" in trafficking victims’ lack of freedom, Meshelemiah said, calling it an "unacceptable" practice whose mere reduction "is not enough." She urged her listeners to act through such means as presenting awareness-raising talks; joining organizations committed to addressing the problem; supporting petitions and legislation that take up the cause; giving money to agencies active against trafficking; and mentoring or fostering an at-risk teenager.
"We’ve got a lot of people fighting the good fight," she said. It’s saving lives, "and saving people’s lives is serious business."
Meshelemiah holds three degrees from Ohio State, including a doctorate earned in 1995. After three years at the State University of New York at Buffalo—where she began her research related to prostitution—she returned to Ohio State in 1998. She also serves as chair of the board of Rahab’s Hideaway, a Columbus safe haven for victims, and those at risk, of human trafficking.
Bluffton public relations, 3/23/11