Bethany J. Royer
PIQUA — The story is chilling, a teenage girl auctioned off for sex to a dozen men and her only comfort after the fact, a bar of soap.
This unsettling story was shared by Leesa Baker, executive director for the Piqua YWCA, and will be discussed in a future Daily Call, as we look further into the travesty that is human trafficking and modern day slavery. An issue highlighted during the month of January across the United States as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month.
Along with the local police department, the YWCA is looking to bring awareness to area residents of the modern day problem of sex and labor trafficking that happens not only in other countries or large cities, but locally.
“That’s what makes the YWCA such a great partner for us,” said Bruce Jamison, Chief of Police, as oft-times prevention and awareness programs receive less attention due to more immediate needs and necessary responses to area emergencies. While explaining how the department was initially approached by the YWCA upon hearing of the problem and wanting to bring awareness to the community. The organization’s first question, and what many may question, as well, is how much human trafficking transpires here in the Piqua community and what can they do?
It was a question the Chief of Police answered as something that has been going on for at least the last 25 years that he has been working in the community. One that has proven to be something of a double-edged sword in some situations such as in the case of the trafficking of illegal immigrants.
“We could see that they were mistreated, that they were being victimized,” said Jamison, however, authorities faced multiple issues in trying to aid these individuals, such a culture of fear in not wanting to report abuses due to the risk of deportation. Or in the population-at-large’s negative view or association to the title of illegal alien that was in need of a differentiating definition so as to bring proper awareness to the situation. “Until we started getting some awareness and calling it human trafficking and slavery —what it is— a community is not going to support it.”
In a case of out of sight, out of mind, Jamison explained how such issues as prostitution goes on in the community but, “We don’t have prostitutes hanging out on our street corners. We have prostitution but it’s not visible.”
So how does a community justify tax-dollar support or support in general for problems they can’t see? They have to be made aware that these issues are flying under the radar, says Jamison.
For instance, as Jamison explained for those individuals held through various means to support a business or enterprise, “It’s fine to have a minimum wage law but whenever someone is here, under the radar, it really doesn’t matter. They’re not getting paid minimum wage. They are probably housed somewhere, including in this city, by the enterprise that’s running the business.”
Jamison went on to share an anecdote from the mid-90s where male workers were being housed at a single location in a Piqua neighborhood. “They would leave the house to go to the business in the morning, in a van, and all get returned that evening.”
No bother to the neighbors, who were unaware to the going-ons, Jamison said it was observed that the workers were being rewarded by a van-load of women brought to the home —sex slaves from West Chester.
“So this has been around,” said Jamison with the first step to bring awareness so as to recognize when human trafficking and slavery may be going on. Indications include the following patterns for labor trafficking, provided by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, such as victims being kept isolated to prevent them from getting help or being blackmailed, especially if they are undocumented. (See box for more information)
Labor trafficked individuals often come from economically and oppressed places with high illiteracy rates, little social mobility and little to no economic opportunities.
Bethany J. Royer may be reached at 773-2721 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall