Child sex trafficking is a big problem that is often overlooked in our region. The recent arrest of three Scioto County women on rape charges has put the spotlight on this often-missed problem. The three women are alleged to have trafficked boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 13 in exchange for drugs and money. It’s alleged that some of these rapes were captured on video and in pictures.
I spoke with Rhiannon Gill, a local expert on sex abuse and human trafficking about the problem. While you often see posts about people fearful that child sex traffickers are following them in Walmart or driving by playgrounds in a white panel van, the majority of children trafficked for sex aren’t snatched up by strangers. “In most of the situations, it is someone that is known to the child. Children don’t know they are victims of trafficking.”
She said, “Sadly, this area has a bigger problem than is realized. It is hard to put a statistic to human trafficking in Southern Ohio because it is miscategorized. It is sometimes overlooked. Some do not believe it is happening here.”
Gill says that unstable family situations leave a child the most vulnerable to being trafficked for sex. “The familial situations that are most prominent to child trafficking are broken, unhealthy home lives such as those with domestic violence or drug activities. The adults in these homes are self-involved in their activities and neglect the children making them more vulnerable to a trafficker.”
She said traffickers may provide children with food, clothing, or attention. In some cases, parents will allow boyfriends or girlfriends to abuse their children in exchange for supporting the household.
Gill says it’s a problem that law enforcement sometimes overlooks. “Many times law enforcement and medical personnel encounter the traffickers as well as the children who are trafficked without even realizing it.”
Child trafficking is often associated with domestic violence, drug activity, and illegal weapons possession but officers can miss the signs. “Our law enforcement is very busy and they work tirelessly to do their jobs but usually due to staffing and funding many cases get missed.”
She emphasized the importance of child sex trafficking training to help officers, social workers, healthcare providers, and others recognize the signs.
As for what we should watch for, Gill says, “Most often there will be an adult with a controlling or abusive presence, the child may disappear for long blocks of time with no real explanation for their whereabouts, chronic runaways, unexplained bruises, or injuries, fearful or anxious behaviors, and inconsistent stories.”
If you suspect sexual abuse of any kind, it’s important to notify local law enforcement. “I would say to parents, friends, and family, to ere on the side of caution, if you see something, say something!” She also said that trafficking can be a dangerous situation, so it’s best to call the police instead of attempting to take matters into your own hands.