The Rotary Club of Strongsville (Ohio, US – D 6630) will host its second annual Community Forum on Human Trafficking at 6.30 pm on October 16 at Strongsville Middle School, 13200 Pearl Road.
This year’s forum is entitled, “Protecting Our Children: What Internet Predators Don’t Want You to Know.”
The Rotary is partnering with Collaborative to End Human Trafficking — a nonprofit that educates the public about human trafficking and helps victims — to present the free event.
“We don’t know of any particular case of human trafficking in Strongsville, but there have been cases in nearby communities, so it can easily happen here,” said Ken McEntee, Strongsville Rotary past president and vice president of the Strongsville Rotary Foundation.
“We don’t want to make anyone paranoid, but we want to make everyone aware.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, more than 360 human trafficking cases in Ohio were reported to the hotline in 2017.
About 80 per cent of those cases involved sex trafficking.
Nationwide, more than 8,500 human trafficking cases were reported to the hotline.
Most human traffickers recruit their victims online through social media, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The October 16 forum will feature a panel of experts who will advise parents and teens on how to stay clear of online dangers that can lead to human trafficking, which involves forcing victims into sex slavery and or slave labour.
The panelists are David Frattare, commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force; Carol Skutnik and Michael Sullivan, assistant US attorneys for the Northern District of Ohio; Holly Welsh, Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor; and Karen Walsh, president and CEO of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.
The panelists will review real cases of online predators tricking children and adults into human trafficking.
“We’re hoping other Rotary clubs and service organisations will attend and join us in spreading the word,” McEntee said.
“And our district has 26 Interact clubs, which are high-school versions of Rotary, and we hope to get them involved.”
McEntee said the Strongsville Rotary’s involvement in human trafficking awareness started about two years ago, when he attended a Rotary International conference in Atlanta.
“By that time, I had already been interested in the issue, but there was an overwhelming interest at the conference,” McEntee said.
“There was standing room only at some of the human trafficking sessions, and some people were turned away.”
Upon returning home, McEntee talked about his Atlanta experience with Jeff Ellis, the Strongsville Rotary’s director for community service.
Ellis, who had been organising Strongsville’s annual Child Safe Community Day Fair, contacted Walsh at the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.
“She was excited about doing a community awareness event, and excited to have the Rotary involved,” McEntee said.
The 2017 forum drew more than 200 people. The speaker was a woman who, as a 15-year-old, was roped into sex slavery by a man she thought wanted to be her boyfriend.
It happened while she was living with her parents in an affluent section of Greater Detroit.
“The moral of the story is that it can happen anywhere, including Strongsville,” McEntee said.