Ellie was 13 when she met Ethan, the man who she would fall in love with. The man who would sell her into slavery.
“It was a casual relationship at first. You could see there was a mutual connection. I thought he was cute,” Ellie remembers. “I could tell he was really flirtatious with me. We would talk and flirt a lot, but it was not much more than that until we met again when I was 15.”
When the two met again at a bar, Ellie was a runaway. Their flirtatious relationship started up as if it never stopped. That night, she went home with him, and eventually, she moved in with him. She lived a “normal,” domestic life with him—cooking and cleaning and occasionally taking care of the kids.
Everything changed, Ellie described, at a party the two attended one night. The scent of alcohol and drugs engulfed her, and the sound of a low bass vibrated the floor beneath her. Then Ethan approached her and instructed her to have sex for money with a stranger.
“I was very uncomfortable and I kept saying no, I didn’t want to do it. He kept telling me, ‘If you love me, you’ll do this. It’s just one thing. Just try it.’”
For 30 minutes Ethan kept pressuring Ellie to just get it over with before she finally, reluctantly, gave in. But what was promised to be a one-time thing quickly became nightly. Week after week, Ethan took Ellie to bars where he paraded her around and sold her like an item.
For many years Ellie existed not as a young girl, but as a thing from which men took advantage of.
Ellie’s story is not unique. She is one of an estimated 25-40 million worldwide who are forced into human trafficking. Because the victims can be resold several times in just one night, human trafficking is far more lucrative that drug trafficking where there is only one exchange between buyer and seller. According to the International Labour Organization, human trafficking generates $150 billion annually.
The Trump Administration has taken action to fight against this issue by setting up the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking. The Center is the first U.S. government operation to be solely focused on combating human trafficking and forced labor.
“The Center will build on the agency’s ‘victims first’ approach, which balances victim identification, rescue and support with prevention, investigation and prosecution of traffickers. ICE HSI is uniquely positioned to utilize criminal, immigration and trade-based authorities to proactively identify, disrupt and dismantle cross-border human trafficking organizations,” read the news release announcement about the new center.
The Center is based in Washington, D.C., and has been in operation since early September, staffed by officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, law enforcement from Homeland Security Investigations and DHS workers so they can achieve all “4 Ps”: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.
“Human traficking is modern day slavery. There is no other way to say it,” said Acting Secretary Chad Wolf. “The words are strong because the actions are evil. The forms of exploitation, sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude that constitute human trafficking are antithetical in every way to the principles of human dignity that Americans hold dear. The launch of this Center for Countering Human Trafficking represents the investment of resources, attention, and time by President Trump to combat and dismantle all forms of human trafficking.”
In January, Wolf signed and released the DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Goods Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation which promised to strengthen efforts to fight modern slavery through the DHS.
“Human Trafficking, whether through sex or labor, is a detriment to our society and threatens the moral conscience of our nation. Victims are treated as commodities rather than human beings, with no regard for their health and well-being,” said ICE Senior Official Performing the Duties of Director, Tony Pham. “ICE, along with our internal and external partners, will continue to fight against these atrocities and answer victims’ cries for help. The Center for Countering Human Trafficking will serve as evidence that when we work collectively against such heinous acts, we combat the threat they pose to national security and to public safety.”
Across the country, state governments have made their own efforts to fight human trafficking. On Oct 26, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the beginnings of Operation Autumn Hope, a plan to stop human trafficking in the state, which includes over 50 law enforcement agencies and other non-government partners.
Because of this initiative, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Trask Force, Columbus PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force were able to rescue 109 victims of human traffificking.
“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”
Once the victims were rescued, they were put in the care of social services.
“Survivors of rape and sex trafficking deserve to be believed and have access to justice. By holding offenders accountable and reducing demand for human trafficking, this operation prevented many others from being harmed,” said Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Center.
Once the identities of the survivors were processed, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared across southern Ohio. During the operation, the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin Count Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested 22 individuals who were planning to solicit sex from a minor.
In other parts of the state, another 157 men were arrested and charged with soliciting sex from minors.
“The Dublin Police Department recognizes the importance of collaborating with local, state and federal agencies in order to rid our communities of this painful exploitation of our fellow citizens,” Dublin Chief of Police Justin Páez said. “Through operations and efforts like this, we can hold people accountable as well as bring justice and support to victims of human trafficking.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned.