Carol O’Brien: Modern-day slavery right here


Many were shocked last year to hear of human trafficking allegations at several Delaware County “massage parlors.”

Shocked, because human trafficking doesn’t happen “in my community.”

But it does; it can; and it did.

The trial lasted two weeks, required three Mandarin Chinese interpreters, and entailed hours upon hours of collaborative preparation between two counties. The result was a guilty verdict on all counts for two sisters indicted after their massage parlors were raided, exposing the scourge of human trafficking behind unassuming storefronts in our very backyards.

The guilty verdict is a victory not only for the victims, but for society at large.

This groundbreaking case proves that together we are changing the way society identifies a victim and moving forward to effectively prosecute the real criminals, those behind what is essentially modern-day slavery.

Change, though, isn’t always easy. This case came about because someone like you noticed something “not quite right,” and chose to report it.

When the anonymous letter came in to the Powell Police Department alleging questionable activity at the Amsun Massage Parlor, no one could have guessed the intensive investigation and complex trial that would follow.

In the beginning, it was difficult to determine the victims’ first or last names; difficult to clarify how the women arrived in central Ohio; and what they were doing behind closed doors.

With exhaustive efforts from the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the Chinese community, local officers and detectives, and the Salvation Army — who offered a safe house – these victims’ voices were heard.

In what has been termed the “largest human trafficking bust in central Ohio in a decade,” the investigation found the women living in the storefront. Their food was brought in. They cooked and ate meals on site. They paid rent to sleep on the very massage tables where they provided services to clients. They could not leave without the assistance and permission of the business owners.

We learned how the women were coerced into travelling to Ohio under the guise of legitimate employment. The evidence backed up the women’s accounts of sexual misconduct – what some male customers expected and how their boss told them to “keep the customers happy.”

All this came to light because of someone like you.

The impact of this case reaches beyond Ohio. The defendants owned massage parlors in at least two other states.

Human trafficking is, unfortunately, far reaching. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. Victims of human trafficking are children, adults, male and female. Human trafficking is a crime that occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.

It sounds awful, and it is, but it’s not always apparent. So what should you look for?

Well, there are a lot of red flags: a young girl alone at a truck stop, someone who seems just “too” quiet or submissive. There are many things that could mean human trafficking. Often though, it comes down to a feeling. Do you feel like something is “off?”

Bottom line: It’s always better to report and have it checked out than let a potential crime occur. Reporting is anonymous and confidential. You can call local authorities or dial 888-373-7888. There is nothing to lose by calling and, in fact, you may help someone.

Delaware County has a wonderful, dedicated group known as Delaware County Against Human Trafficking Coalition. My office is part of this amazing coalition and I encourage you to “like” them on Facebook to learn about their efforts to educate the community and eradicate human trafficking.

You can also visit to learn more.

Victims can text “HELP” or “INFO” to BeFree (233733). This service helps victims find safety and connections to area services.

There’s a lot of information out there, and that’s good. Together, we are agents of change, working to identify victims as victims and hold accountable the real criminals, the traffickers.

Carol O’Brien

Contributing columnist

Carol O’Brien is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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