This week I was grateful that I was able to attend the 6th Annual North East Ohio Human Trafficking Symposium organized by the Renee Jones Empowerment Center (RJEC). This day full of learning and information spotlights the serious realities of human trafficking in the NE Ohio area, including programs, services, and resources available to victims and survivors, as well as the role of awareness & prevention. Below is a brief summary of the day, which included a lot of content about youth & human trafficking:
The day kicked off with the Symposium’s Judicial Track, which included information presented by Bianca Smith who serves as an Assistant Bailiff for Juvenile Court in Cuyahoga County. Her presentation focused on the County’s Safe Harbor Pilot Project. This project supports Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law that was passed in 2012 and includes, but not limited to offering treatment-based diversion programs for youth trafficking victims, stiffer charges & sentences for convicted traffickers, and training among law enforcement about human trafficking. In the County’s Juvenile Court, the project is helping to identify youth that can be helped from the pilot project, collaborating with area agencies, such as the RJEC and others to meet programming needs and provide a continuum of care that is trauma informed.
The Symposium’s next track focused on a new program that has been launched by RJEC this year called Men of Purpose. This pilot project includes a partnership with the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility. This weekly program offers training sessions on human trafficking awareness and prevention to young men, as an effort to address and reduce the demand of human trafficking. The young men involved in this project presented an overview of what they have learned, its outreach impact with their peers, and what boys and men can do to prevent human trafficking. Last month I was able to meet these remarkable young men to see the programming & facilitators Sheldon Lovejoy & Matt Goins in action, when I visited to speak about art therapy and group work facilitated at RJEC. It’s great to see the success of this programming and dealing with a component important to breaking the cycle of human trafficking.
The Symposium’s Law Update included information about Ohio’s human trafficking laws presented by Maureen Kenny, Professor of Law with the Case Western Reserve School of Law. As a result of new human trafficking laws in the state of Ohio, more services, training, and data collection is taking place- especially in the areas of Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Lucas counties.
Maya Simek, Director of Programs at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland provided content for the Symposium’s Treatment & Programs track, introducing awareness and advocacy for LGBTQ youth and young adults and in relationship to human trafficking risks and vulnerability.
Another very valuable track to the Symposium includes allowing Survivors to share their story and journey of recovery. Rachel Kasik, a Survivor Speaker for RJEC, shared her experience with the audience through a powerful visual timeline that used photography.
The Law Enforcement track featured Detective John Morgan from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department and highlighted the role of police involvement. This summer, MSNBC did filming in Cleveland for their series Sex Slaves: Fighting Human Trafficking, which chronicles the front lines of law enforcement’s fight to stop human trafficking, create a better understand of this crime to stop it, and how victims can escape from it and seek help & recovery.
The Symposium concluded the day with an overview behind the economics behind human trafficking presented by Matt Goins and an Agent from Ohio’s Investigative Unit for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Kim Bartholomew. They offered attendees an awareness about the twisted commodity influence behind human trafficking within the US and internationally, including the trafficking of youth victims. This video the presenters showed provided a perspective into this dark reality:
A mission of RJEC’s Project Red Cord includes offering services (including art therapy!) and resources to prevent teens from becoming victims of human trafficking. An upcoming event to support this effort includes the Center’s 1st annual Prevention and Awareness Teen Summit scheduled for next month. This free event will be a day of information & empowerment presented in a creative way to arm and equip teens with knowledge and prevention strategies that will help protect them from becoming a victim.
If you are in the NE Ohio area and work with an agency or organization that serves youth ages 13-19, you are invited to check out and spread the word about this September event that will be held at the Near West Center in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. There are also opportunities for individuals or organizations to get involved with donating items needed for the Summit: Check out RJEC’s Facebook page for more information about help that is needed.
I am excited that part of the Summit will include community art-making with art therapists to help strengthen the teens’ sense of self & give a voice to their hopes & dreams for the future. There will also be lots of other opportunities for creative expression such as music, dance, poetry, performance, and more! An artful and meaningful day of advocacy & empowerment is planned. Pre- registration is required and can be done by contacting Traci Grasso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to RJEC and all of this year’s Symposium speakers for this valuable day of learning!