BLUFFTON — The Bluffton Public Library held a Human Trafficking Awareness Class in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day Friday.
The library partnered with Crime Victim Services in Lima to highlight what human trafficking is, the ways it can begin and warning signs to be aware of.
“As a public library, it is important to us to provide programming and information covering community interests and concerns,” Lauren Canaday said. “Human trafficking has been recognized as a state concern by the Ohio Attorney General since 2011.”
Brittany Reyes, Crime Victim Services’ human trafficking survivor advocate, said it’s important to bring this education to small towns.
“Lima is pretty large compared to Bluffton, and we hear so many times it’s not happening in these smaller communities,” Reyes said.
Reyes said much of the trafficking in Ohio is a result of the high number of highways and truck stops, both hot spots for trafficking. An increasing immigrant population also increases the amount of labor trafficking.
Linda Lehman, of Pandora, attended the program because she said she may have witnessed a trafficking situation last year.
“I was approached a year ago in front of the grocery store,” Lehman said. “It was a little girl asking me for money because she was hungry. I could see her keep looking behind my shoulder. She eventually ran off and got into a car with a man, and they drove off.”
Lehman works with Transport for Christ so she wanted to attend the session to increase her education and share it with her community.
“People don’t like to talk about it, which is why we encourage it,” Reyes said. “If someone brings it up don’t just push it aside and think it’s not happening. The goal is to bring awareness and start the conversation.”
Reyes has been with Crime Victim Services for two years and said she’s seen the increase. However, most victims are referred to Crime Victim Services by family, friends, law enforcement or hospitals.
“The more training and educational pieces we provide, the more people have come,” she said. “Very rarely do we have people reach out and say ‘I am a victim of human trafficking.’ Now that human trafficking is kind of a buzzword, people feel more comfortable to say that.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511