Rio hosts human trafficking awareness forum

RIO GRANDE — The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College recently hosted the first seminar in a three-part series on human trafficking awareness.

The virtual “Human Trafficking in Higher Ed”seminar was hosted by Rio in conjunction with Eyes Up Appalachia and the Gallia County Citizens for Prevention and Recovery.

Friday’s seminar was titled “Seriously? That’s Human Trafficking?” with the speaker being Stephanie Rollins, a 21-year survivor of human trafficking.

Rollins is currently a peer support specialist and mentor for survivors on the road to recovery.

Rollins spoke to the virtual attendees about her experience being trafficked, as well as “red flags” and warning signs.

She shared, after her father was killed when she was a child and her mother had become an alcoholic, Rollins began running away from home. She met her trafficker at the age of 12. Rollins described the beginning of their interactions as being “groomed,” where traffickers gain trust by giving their victims gifts or things they need or generally making them feel loved.

Rollins explained the types of trafficking, which include, but are not limited to, stripping, exotic dancing, prostitution and pornography.

Ohio is known to have a high human trafficking rate, and the Ohio Department of Health reports the state has ranked as high as fifth among all states in reported human trafficking cases.

Rollins said the state has a high incidence rate due to “high demands, high profits and a massive drug crisis.” Ohio also has an extensive highway system with several large cities and a high poverty rate, which Rollins believes to be contributing to human trafficking.

Rollins said there are many ways of entrance into trafficking, including streets, friend’s house, malls, sporting events, truck stops, internet, social media, places without a support system and no adult supervision.

Rollins explained what some of the more vulnerable population risk factors are, which include those in the child protective services (CPS) system, failing in school or dropped out, having a family member involved in sex trade, history of sexual abuse, in a group home, runaway, older boyfriends, single parent families, or self-mutilating.

There are several “pathways into sex trafficking,” as Rollins described. These are types of traffickers that are common. Some are “pimps,” but Rollins said they could be family members who sell children for money or a same-sex friend used to gain trust.

Rollins said education about human trafficking is important to protect yourself and those around you. But also, it is important to build healthy relationships, develop healthy coping skills, cope with vulnerabilities, and become educated on the internet and social networking safety.

There is an anonymous national human trafficking hotline to call to report situations at 888-373-7888.

A representative from Rio said they plan to post the recorded seminars to the University of Rio Grande Facebook page for viewing.

The remaining two sessions of the virtual series will be held on the last Friday of February and March. The session two speaker will be Special Agent Alex Hunt, the coordinator of the FBI’s Northwest Ohio Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.

© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.

The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College recently hosted the first (virtual) seminar in a three-part series on human trafficking awareness. (OVP File Photo)

Kayla (Hawthorne) Dunham is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.

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