Human trafficking is not a distant problem, it’s happening right here in the heart of one of the most affluent regions in Ohio.
That blunt message was delivered Friday by Carol O’Brien, an Ohio deputy attorney general for law enforcement, and Maj. Christy Utley, of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, in the latest Great Decisions lecture at William Street United Methodist Church in Delaware. The theme: “Labor Trafficking: Global Problem/Local Impact.”
O’Brien opened the lecture for 68 attendees, focusing on how many people are in denial about this issue, especially in this region.
“It happens here. It happened here in Worthington, it happened in Powell. Powell, Ohio, you know the fastest growing bedroom community in the country,” O’Brien said. “One of the highest per capita income and wealth areas in the country, and we had human trafficking.”
O’Brien posed a question to the audience about where they think most labor trafficking occurs in the U.S. Some guessed online, others agriculture. While that is true in some cases, O’Brien pointed to another well-visited spot.
“How many of you get your nails done?” she asked.
Nail salons are one of the premiere spots for labor trafficking, she said.
But online, many of the so-called human trafficking schemes are not accurate, including one scenario where someone finds their car’s windshield wipers tied together with a zip tie and then snatch a person when they emerge from the car, she said.
“That’s a lie,” O’Brien said. “When you hear stories like that know that most of them are not true. A majority of girls and boys who are lured into human trafficking are lured, they’re not forced into human trafficking.”
O’Brien said she dealt with a human trafficking case when she was a prosecutor in Delaware several years ago related to a massage parlor in Powell. An anonymous letter to the police said Chinese girls at the massage parlor never left the premises, had food brought to them and were forced to provide “happy endings” to the men who frequented the parlor.
The tip was proven correct with police surveillance that included dumpster diving of the parlor’s garbage.
Utley focused on a complicated and extensive case of a labor trafficking ring at a Marion-area egg farm that began in 2014. The case didn’t end until 2016. In smaller rural communities, it is difficult to establish surveillance in an area where everybody knows everybody.
“No matter what car I’m in, no matter if I have a hat on, face mask whatever, they know that we’re in the trailer park and by the time you make it to the back everybody knows there’s a car there that’s not supposed to be there,” Utley said.
In the Marion case, when the Guatemalan men, women and children were not working at the egg farms, they were kept at the trailer park. They were picked up by a van early in the morning and driven to the egg farm where they worked all day before they were loaded back up and taken back to the trailer park.
Investigators eventually discovered the trailers had anywhere from seven to 15 people living in per trailer, each overrun with roaches and with no running water.
Neither of O’Brien or Utley’s cases would have been investigated if it were not for public tips.
“That’s a big thing in our society today, is people don’t tell. If you see something, say something,” Utley said. “You can say something without giving your name. If you give an anonymous tip you truly are anonymous.”
Attendee Norman Snook, of Delaware, said the lecture was enlightening.
“The investigations that they were reporting gave some grounding to the theory in a sense, but I thought the information, even on the screens, was very helpful in terms of the laws and how they expressed what they said really,” Snook said.
Julie Richey recently moved to Delaware and said she learned a lot about her new home.
“I like how this whole Great Decisions discussion series pulls locals into localizing the topic that is often talked about internationally,” Richey said.
Barbara Adams, also of Delaware, said she found the talk to be a welcome source of information for a very important subject.
“It was great,” she said. “This is something that we need to really talk about in a forum or otherwise just talking about it is good. I think we all need to know more about the subject and it was good that it was presented today.”
Katie Cantrell, class of 2022 at Ohio Wesleyan University, is majoring in communications.