ELYRIA — It’s often considered a taboo topic, but on Tuesday a panel of specialists spoke openly about human trafficking — a problem which they say will become more frequent than drug trafficking in a matter of years.
Human trafficking often gets ignored or misunderstood, said Mindi Kuebler of the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County.
“We make sure that people know about it, that they’re not afraid to talk about it,” Kuebler said.
The collaborative, which Kuebler runs with Kristi Miller and Shawn Cleveland, aims to bring awareness to the problem and to assist human trafficking victims, who often have no other means of support, Kuebler said.
At the talk at Lorain County Community College on Tuesday, Kuebler, Miller, Cleveland and panelists Michelle Gillcrist of the Ohio attorney general’s office, Director of Lorain County Urban League Mike Ferrer and the Rev. Angel Arroyo explained the ways a person gets coerced into prostitution or human trafficking — often through friends.
They explained how it is difficult for victims of human trafficking, who are often in their early teens, to break out of the cycle.
“It’s just like with an addiction — they can get help only when they want it,” Miller said.
While some awareness has been raised in the four years that the collaborative has been active, speakers on Tuesday said they would like more people to understand the situation in Lorain County.
“There has never been the opportunity that there is right now,” Ferrer said, addressing the awareness that the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland brought to the issues of human trafficking and sexual assault.
Felix and Nancy DeJesus, parents of one of Castro’s victims, Gina DeJesus, spoke briefly Tuesday.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” Felix DeJesus said about his daughter’s nine years in captivity. “It’s up to me to pass the word onto the next person. If I sit back and say nothing about this, it’ll happen everywhere in every city.”
“Always keep your mind and your eyes open,” Nancy DeJesus added.