LIMA — JoDee Figueroa was a victim of human trafficking for 12 years and escaped the lifestyle Dec. 30, 2014, and entered into treatment.
Crime Victim Services and the Northwest Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition hosted “An Evening of Awareness” Human Trafficking in northwest Ohio Tuesday at Lima Community Church attended by 100 people. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Figueroa has started a Human Trafficking Coalition in Hancock County and has been sharing her story through trainings, presentations and individual support to inspire others and provide hope for living a clean and sober life.
At age 13, she ran away and went to a truck stop with a trucker who took her and her friend to California — her first experience with human trafficking.
“I thought all I was good for was sex and I knew about sex before I knew my ABCs,” Figueroa said. At age 3 she was taught to perform oral sex. She lived in over 30 foster homes as a child and was looking for a place to belong and didn’t have a family.
Figueroa, now 43, of Findlay, was trafficked at age 24 when she responded to an ad for a escort service. She met her trafficker, a female who owned the escort business, who made her believe she would have a family.
“She told me we could be a family and had six girls on staff,” Figueroa said. “I wanted a family to be a part of.”
Figueroa became addicted to pills and did cocaine with clients. She got pregnant with a client’s child and the trafficker found a family to adopt the child.
Her trafficker went to prison for identity theft and Figueroa got out of trafficking.
She got her GED, is sober and has a successful job today and a son.
“Never give up — that is what saved my life,” Figueroa said.
Erin Ostling Burkholder, Day One of Crime Victim Services violence prevention and victim offender dialogue coordinator, provided a presentation on Human Trafficking: 101. There are 40.3 million trafficking victims worldwide and 71% are females and 25% are children. There are more than 700,000 people being trafficked in the United States and 49,000 cases reported to the national traffic hotline.
In Ohio since 2017, there were 4,219 trafficking survivors identified in Ohio, 443 cases reported in 2019 and 60 survivors served by Day One of Crime Victims Services in 2019.
She provides educational training and outreach to end sexual violence in the community. She defined human trafficking as the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
“Human trafficking is something that is often hidden in our community, but also something that we know is prevalent and affecting families across Allen County,” Ostling Burkholder said.
She said she hopes those who attended have a greater awareness of trafficking and the impact it has on survivors.
Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities and manipulate folks by coming across as a caring adult who will provide meals, get them a job and use alcohol or drugs as a means to control the victim and offering a better life, Ostling Burkholder said.
Physical signs of trafficking include lack of medical care and over sexualized behavior.
A panel who answered questions included Judy Lester, Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth, Chad Reichenbach, Allen County Children Services, Ronda Norris, Dayton Children’s Hospital and Brittany Reyes, Day One of Crime Victim Services.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 888-373-7888. Northwest Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition is a partnership with over 40 agencies, 16 counties and four chapters bringing awareness, training and technical assistance. Email NWOhioRRC@gmail.com or call 877-867-7273.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.