Recognizing the signs of human trafficking and training people to respond to those signs is the goal behind two public awareness events in July, according to Reynoldsburg City Councilman Cornelius McGrady III.
The first, called the "Not On Our Watch" Families Against Human Trafficking Conference, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 19 at First Church of God, 3480 Refugee Road in Columbus.
Registration opens at 9:30 a.m. and admission is free for all ages.
The keynote speaker will be Judge Paul Herbert, founder of CATCH, a program that helps women involved in prostitution complete a program to reinvent their lives.
Other speakers will include Bishop Timothy J. Clarke and human trafficking survivor and motivational speaker Barbara Freeman, who also monitors a survivors' panel.
McGrady said he would provide introductory training.
"I'll provide an overview in terms of the labor trafficking side and the sex trafficking side," he said. "People will also learn the signs and symptoms of both sides and find out how to get involved and who to call if you see any of these signs."
McGrady calls human trafficking "modern-day slavery," citing instances where victims answer an ad for employment and are kidnapped into prostitution rings, or approached on the street and lured into prostitution.
"This is a mission that I believe has been given to me by my faith and I will run with the mission until the well runs dry," he said. "We have had three human trafficking busts since our conference last January.
"It is important that we continue to disseminate this information to the public," he said. "We still have too many individuals thinking that these women choose a life of prostitution instead of being forced into it."
The second event is "Human Trafficking Training for Emergency Medical Service Personnel," scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. July 22 at Reynoldsburg High School Summit Road Campus, Building 2, 8579 Summit Road.
The training is free and open to the public, but advance registration is preferred, at the Ohio Attorney General's website at ohioattorneygeneral.gov/breakeverychain.
Hosted by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and McGrady, the goal of the training is to teach emergency medical service personnel to recognize the signs of human trafficking, McGrady said.
He said a conference that concentrates on training for law enforcement personnel is planned for September.
"Even if we can get first-responders to do a quick glance around and see if they recognize any signs of human trafficking, then they will know who to call to further investigate," McGrady said.
Brent Currence, from the missing persons unit of the Ohio Attorney General's office, will speak at the event, along with McGrady and Freeman.
"The issue of human trafficking is very prevalent and the more we can get first-responders to recognize the signs of human trafficking, the more victims we can recover," Currence said.
He said the problem is, "we are so new at trying to address this issue."
"We don't have a good grasp of the numbers in our state but we do know that the officers involved are quickly becoming overwhelmed with the volume of cases, so we know the problem exists," he said. "For the most part, we need to raise awareness and educate people about this issue."
He said the Ohio Attorney General's Office has been working since 2011 to raise awareness of human trafficking.
"We have seen a big jump in the number of tips and reports coming in, so the word is getting out there," he said.
Partners in the Summit Road event are the Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition, Truro Township Fire Department, the Jerry L. Garver YMCA on Gender Road, Licking County Sheriff's Department, Reynoldsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, West Licking Fire District and Ohio Select.
The Ohio Attorney General's website states that nationally, more than 100,000 children are thought to be involved in the sex trade. A preliminary report on the scope of the problem in Ohio cited 13 as the most common age in Ohio for youths to become victims of child sex trafficking.
Warning signs include sleeping bags in nail salons that indicate employees are living in the same place they work or workers who appear exceptionally young or fearful.
At a hotel, an older male might check in with a young female or females; a young girl might refer to an older man as her boyfriend or "daddy," sometimes a street slang for pimp.
Other signs might be security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment, barbed wire inside a fence or bars covering the insides of windows, according to information on the website.