A city councilman and members of Reynoldsburg High School's DECA program are teaming up to bring attention to the problem of human trafficking.
DECA students will host a series of assemblies on the subject at 8:26 and 10:08 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at the RHS Livingston campus, 6699 E. Livingston Ave., and again at 1 p.m. at the RHS Summit Road campus, 8579 Summit Road.
Human trafficking is not just an overseas or immigrant problem -- it is occurring close to Reynoldsburg and awareness of the problem will help end it, Reynoldsburg City Councilman Cornelius McGrady III said.
McGrady provides sexual trafficking and assault awareness for the U.S. Army.
"A lot of youth, parents and members of the community are not aware that this is not just an immigrant issue -- it is a domestic matter that needs more attention than it is getting," McGrady said. "When it affects our youth as early as 8 years old, that is a serious crime."
He said human traffickers are pulling children and young adults into modern-day slavery as close as 13 miles away from Reynoldsburg.
"We would like to make this awareness assembly an annual event in Reynoldsburg," he said.
Speakers at the assembly will include a survivor of human trafficking, Marlene Carson, who is the founder of Rahab's Hideaway in Columbus.
Carson was tricked and kidnapped from her Columbus home at the age of 15 and sold into prostitution in New York. She has been an international spokesperson on the human trafficking problem and founder of a program to help women escape sex slavery.
Citing statistics from the Polaris Project report on human trafficking (polarisproject.org), McGrady said approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year and 14,000 to 17,000 people are trafficking into the United States from other countries. An estimated 1,800 individuals are believed to be trafficked into the sex labor trade in Ohio, he said.
"Documented cases of young people falling into the hands of sex traffickers have been identified as close as Columbus and Zanesville," he said. "Toledo has been named the No. 4 hub in the United States for human trafficking."
DECA adviser Kim Pennycuff said parents are welcome to attend Friday's assemblies.
She said DECA students became interested in the issue when students in her senior classes said they "wanted to make a difference."
"One particular student said she saw the effects of trafficking and felt it her duty to teach others about it so they would not become a victim to it," Pennycuff said. "She saw this as a cross-cultural, cross-gender and cross-belief issue."
She said her marketing students "are working tirelessly" to try to educate students on ways they can detect and fight human trafficking and all types of sex slavery. DECA members made blue ribbons to show awareness and have been selling them at the Livingston campus for 50 cents each.
"Each student is asked to wear their ribbons to the assembly," Pennycuff said. "All proceeds go to Gracehaven, a shelter for victims and survivors of human trafficking."
Juniors and DECA members Rachel Phillips and Nia Coleman are chairpersons for the event.
"It is a terrible thing to have happen to someone," Phillips said. "Not a lot of people are aware it is happening so close to home."
She said DECA students hope to help their fellow students realize they can help solve the problem.
"We are telling students that if they see something going on that looks like human trafficking, they should tell an adult or someone who cares about the person," she said. "They could also volunteer at safe houses for the victims or help with activities or donating food."
"We are letting students know there may be signs someone is caught up in human trafficking," Coleman said. "Some of the signs may be that the person is closed off and anxious, may have a lot of illnesses or infections and you might even see a lot of bruises. It is important that we raise awareness about this issue."