TOLEDO — Those who most vulnerable may be more susceptible to fall into the entanglements of human trafficking, but those with power may be just as likely to be behind it, said a human trafficking expert Dr. Celia Williamson.
Ms. Williamson, director of the University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, spoke to approximately 50 people during the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition’s third annual multi-faith prayer breakfast at the UAW Hall. She encouraged people to speak up when they see something wrong — even if it’s speaking up against a person of power.
January is national Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Nationally, over 100,000 children are thought to be involved in the sex trade, with approximately 1,000 children in Ohio, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Sandy Sieben, co-chair of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, said Saturday’s event was to raise awareness in the community, as well as give options of how the community can help.
Human trafficking — both sexual exploitation and forced labor — is modern-day slavery, Ms. Williamson said.
There’s a societal agreement to protect children and those in need, Ms. Williamson said. She encouraged those in the audience to not be silent if they see wrong doing.
“Even though someone is a pastor or a lawyer or a university professor, we can’t empower these people so much that we can’t question what they’re doing — that we get so blindsided that we give over our agreement to protect children,” Ms. Williamson said.
Society places strict pressures on youth — from how they should look to what type of technology they should own — on a daily basis, making them more vulnerable, she said.
“It’s harder to exploit someone that is not vulnerable. Vulnerability comes with a variety of things — previous child sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty — but the root creation of vulnerability is when a young person is told that they’re less and that they’re deserving of abuse,” Ms. Williamson said.
Sometimes, people of power may take advantage of that vulnerability.
Ms. Williamson discussed a recent case involving three Toledo pastors who are charged with sex trafficking minors. The Rev. Cordell Jenkins, 47, the Rev. Anthony Haynes, 38, and the Rev. Kenneth Butler, 37, have each been charged by a federal grand jury with several counts of conspiracy to sex traffic children.
All three of them have pleaded not guilty.
“People are innocent until they’re proven guilty. But if they are guilty, let’s not be confused, please pray their souls go to Heaven, because their behinds will go to U.S. federal prison systems,” she said.
Ms. Williamson said the case didn’t surprise her.
“It’s not the creepy guy under the bridge, because he doesn’t have any money,” she said. “When you buy a 14-year-old, you have to have some money.”
Ms. Williamson said when others comment about children’s appearance or ask why they didn’t tell anyone is considered victim blaming.
Additionally, Ms. Williamson said workers may be forced into work when employers pay little to no pay, while holding legal documents.
A prayer panel and a group prayer was also held during the event.