Reynoldsburg city and school officials are collaborating to fight human trafficking -- a problem Councilman Cornelius McGrady III calls "a modern form of slavery."
The "Break Every Chain" Human Trafficking Awareness Conference will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Reynoldsburg High School Summit campus, 8579 Summit Road in Reynoldsburg.
The day before the conference, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10, a "Break Every Chain" telethon will take place, hosted by WBNS-10TV.
"The purpose of the telethon is to extend a lifeline for those in need," McGrady said. "We have also coordinated transportation arrangements should one of the callers be in need of immediate transportation assistance."
Organizers ask that attendees preregister for the Jan. 11 conference, so that they can prepare enough information packets. Admission is free. Register at ohioattorneygeneral.gov/breakeverychain. On-site registration will be accepted from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. the morning of the event.
McGrady works with the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, which defines human trafficking as a serious crime where "victims are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation in commercial sex or forced labor."
He said human traffickers are pulling children and adults into modern-day slavery in central Ohio -- not just overseas or in other parts of the United States. Marlene Carson, founder of Rahab's Hideaway in Columbus, was kidnapped from her Columbus home at age 15 and sold into prostitution in New York. She spoke about her experience at assemblies held by Reynoldsburg High School in February.
According to the Polaris Project on human trafficking, researchers are working to compile a more accurate number of people who are tricked or forced into sex or labor slavery each year. Currently, an estimated 100,000 children are involved in the sex trade in the United States. The total number of adults and children involved each year in human trafficking in the U.S. is estimated at "hundreds of thousands," according to the Polaris Project website, polarisproject.org.
"As an advocate and volunteer, I have worked with the Reynoldsburg High School DECA students since 2011, facilitating classroom training and assemblies on domestic violence prevention subjects such as sexual harassment, missing children and human trafficking," McGrady said.
Recently, McGrady worked with Jewish Family Services to help bring a 10-week Teen Safe Dating program to local high schools. He also sponsored Reynoldsburg's recent awareness legislation concerning human trafficking and dating violence.
He is collaborating with students and teachers in the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition to organize the Jan. 11 event.
"We are excited about this event and for the need to bring awareness to this horrific crime," McGrady said.
Conference participants include U.S. District Attorney Carter Stewart, who represents the southern district of Ohio; state Rep. Heather Bishoff (D-Blacklick); Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert; Special Agent Kristin L. Cadieux of the FBI; and Barbara Freeman, whom McGrady called his "colleague, friend and survivor."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine or a designee may also attend, and Gov. John Kasich has been invited, McGrady said.
McGrady said Trisha Smouse, the anti-human trafficking program manager at the Salvation Army of Central Ohio, is helping to facilitate the conference. He has also collaborated with Vickie Germann at the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
"DECA students were twice highlighted in the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District Community Outreach Newsletter," McGrady said.