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We can help people we see every day avoid or escape human traffickers: Keyna Smith (

January 22, 2021

This article was originally published by on January 22, 2021.


By Keyna Smith, Director of Anti-Human Trafficking and Advocacy

CLEVELAND — January is a time to start anew. But January is also a time to remember some of our community’s most vulnerable individuals, as it is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. According to the Ohio Department of Health, human trafficking is “one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world,” with more than $35 billion illegally acquired annually. ODH says that cases have been reported in every state and that Ohio has ranked as high as fifth among all states in total reported human trafficking cases.

You may ask, what exactly is  human trafficking? The textbook definition is the exploitation of a person through force, fraud or coercion, and the most common types are sex and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is when sex is exchanged for something the individual needs or wants, such as food, shelter, money or drugs by way of physical or emotional force, manipulation or false promises for a better way of life, education or glamour. Labor trafficking is when individuals are forced to work for little to no pay, and sometimes there is an intersection between labor and sex trafficking.

While these definitions give a glimpse into what the issue is, it doesn’t explain why  traffickers decide to force someone to do these things. The answer? It’s all about power, control and financial gain. Traffickers exploit individuals’ trust and make false promises and inflict severe and long-term physical and psychological trauma for their own financial gain.

Human trafficking thrives in the shadows of our community, where survivors feel unseen. However, survivors actually live in the open in the same communities in which they are being exploited.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made those shadows bigger and darker. People have lost their power, control and financial stability, so we fear that human trafficking is on the rise and survivors are not being seen or heard.