CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio has consistently ranked as one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to the number of reported human trafficking cases in recent years, according to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
In order to better serve survivors, the center is opening up a new drop-in location specifically for human trafficking victims.
Building trust and providing a safe space for survivors to share and heal is a critical part of the work done at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
The downtown office is full of encouraging messages and sad statistics.
Teresa Stafford, the chief advocacy officer, said over the years, there’s been an increase in the number of people seeking their help but keeping track of the prevalence of human trafficking is a challenge.
“We are actually trying to do a better job at even identifying these individuals cause most trafficked people are not going to run out so say, ‘I’ve been trafficked—I need help,’ just because of the trauma and how traffickers use power and control and oftentimes violence to keep them silent,” said Stafford.
Stafford said opening up a drop-in center for human trafficking victims will fill a current gap in services.
It creates a one-stop-shop for survivors by providing access to basic needs like clothing, hygiene and food. If they choose to, victims can engage in counseling and advocacy as well as workforce training and life and parent coaching.
“To make sure that survivors who have experienced something so horrific such as human trafficking, have the ability to access services, and to see that they are not the ones to be blamed for their victimization. All too often we point the finger at individuals who have been trafficked, and we really need to understand the individuals who are to blame are those who are trafficking them, and those that are buying them exploiting them," said Stafford.
Stafford said the coronavirus has decreased the number of calls to the crisis and support hotline but likely increased the need.
“During times of crisis, individuals are more at-risk to be trafficked, that traffickers will play upon the vulnerabilities that exist in our society. People are losing their jobs because of coronavirus; people don't have access to all of the services that they had before.”
The new drop-in center will be located in the Glenville neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. It’s intentionally separate from the rape crisis center’s other locations.
“We really wanted to dedicate a space that was solely for individuals who have been trafficked, so they can partner with individuals who have had similar experiences and don't have to feel ashamed about what they have experienced. And so we really wanted to create that safe space for them and decided that having a space outside of our regular locations, and having a space in the community that's on a bus line that's really close to some of our key partners, was ideal for survivors," said Stafford.
The goal is to have the new center up and running by the beginning of 2021.