CLEVELAND, Ohio — An organization that fights human trafficking in Northeast Ohio is just one of many that have had to adapt operations to follow CDC health guidelines, but they're still finding ways to keep their programs alive.
The latest statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline show 450 cases were reported in Ohio last year. That's 450 people trapped in a life of slavery and servitude, putting Ohio fourth in the nation for human trafficking.
Not for Sale. One Step at a Time is a nonprofit organization working to change that. Run by four moms in Stark County, their goal is to save children from human trafficking, including sex and labor slavery.
"We learned about human trafficking from our pastor at our church years ago and through that education, we just couldn't stay silent," said Kathie Gray.
Kathie Gray is the nonprofit's president. She said they usually hold walks and other events to raise awareness and help educate people on human trafficking but because of the pandemic, they have had to find new ways to reach the public.
"Our victims of human trafficking are quarantined with their offender. And so, it's very, very, very important for us to have that voice. So we did that hard pivot and decided within six weeks of doing this, we decided to create something called a 'Community Freedom Summit' and we got together with our local partners and said listen, we can't be silent. We have to stand up for all these victims, especially now with what we're going through with the pandemic — how can we do this."
The organization hosted a virtual 'Community Freedom Summit' in October and they're now making those resources and information available online as well.
"We decided to do online education. We created a bunch of videos with our local partners from all different walks of life so that we can really discuss human trafficking and how we can prevent that."
While the organization operates a little differently than normal, Gray said she's not giving up on its mission.
"I feel such a strong calling from the Lord that I need to be part of saving kids lives. And myself and the three ladies that are with me, we have such a strong conviction of moms and we want to help save children and we want to keep kids safe. And when you have that strong of a conviction you just follow it."
Human trafficking affects people of all ages and cuts across all walks of life. To report concerns, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text 233733.