Slaves for Sex: Inside the Dark World of Human Trafficking


    WSYX/WTTE

    Women are getting sold for sex at hotels, truck stops and other discreet places. With websites and online forums, detectives said it's easier for criminals to traffic people instead of trafficking drugs.

    Some may think it's prostitution, but ABC 6 Investigators uncovered women trapped in torment and enslaved for sex.

    At practically any hour, on the streets of Columbus, young women are being used, abused and living in fear.

    "All day, every day, it was exhausting," Vanessa Perkins, a trafficking survivor, explained. "I was so confused."

    Perkins is a human trafficking survivor. She said she was abused as a child, drinking and doing drugs before her teenage years, then moving from Nelsonville to Columbus where the harder drugs were cheaper.

    Undercover detectives with the human trafficking task force recognize the link between drugs and sex trafficking.

    "We have strong ties to the narcotics problem, specifically heroin," an undercover police sergeant said.

    Investigators said the interstates and metro layout make Columbus a hot bed to sell women for sex. Ohio is ranked fourth in the country with the highest number of human sex trafficking cases, according to 2015 data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. California, Texas and Florida are ranked in the top three.

    "They are preyed upon and thrown into this scenario for someone else's benefit," the sergeant said.

    Last summer, investigators rescued six underage girls from hotels along Brice Road on the city's east side. All of the girls were forced to have sex for money.

    "I wish all the walls were invisible so I could see the girls who need help," a detective said.

    Perkins said she was tricked for years, agreeing to sexual acts with other men in exchange for drugs and what she thought was love from her trafficker.

    "He knew exactly what he was doing," she said. "He was grooming me, he was earning my trust and it was working."

    Perkins said she was consistently beaten. Despite getting caught twice before, it wasn't until the third time that she made the choice to turn her life around.

    "If you wouldn't have gotten caught, what would have happened?" ABC 6 Investigator Brooks Jarosz asked.

    "I'd probably be dead," Perkins replied. "I'd probably be dead."

    Detectives say it's red flags like runaways and women with low self esteem and high vulnerability who are prime targets.

    "It's kind of like domestic violence on steroids," the undercover sergeant said.

    Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers have also joined the fight, hitting the highways in hopes of stopping sex trafficking in trucks.

    Just last year, the Human Trafficking Task Force made nearly 40 arrests and rescued 14 underage girls.

    The largest bust was at an Asian massage parlor in Powell. Many of the cases take on average a year and a half to crack.

    "You know it's got to be bad when I'm thanking God that I'm going to jail," Perkins said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

    Women like Perkins are thankful for the outreach and support groups that give them a second chance at life. She's clean and six years removed from the sex trafficking world. Perkins now works for the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office as a legal aid.

    Meanwhile, law enforcement hopes for more resources and increased education to rescue and protect.

    "It's rampant," the sergeant said. "There's an endless demand."

    Investigators estimate thousands of victims are still out there at every hour. Detectives said overwhelmingly upper income and suburban men are often those paying for sex.

    The Organized Crime Investigations Commission has provided funding but combating human trafficking will take more time, money and resources. Law enforcement departments across Ohio and the country hope that will happen very soon.

    By the Numbers

    6 - The number of people convicted on sex trafficking charges in the Columbus area. Collectively, they received a total of 84 years with the average sentence marking 14 years.

    16 - The average age of juveniles rescued in the Columbus area last year

    65 - The number of people rescued by the local Human Trafficking Task Force in 2015

    289 - The number of human sex trafficking cases reported in Ohio in 2015. Of those cases, 256 of the victims were female and 18 were male.

    1,066 - The number of calls made to a national hotline referencing cases in Ohio in 2015

    Source: National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Columbus Police Department

    If you have information about sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.


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