CLEVELAND - What happened to then 14-year-old Gina DeJesus while walking home from school in Cleveland the afternoon of April 2, 2004 remains to this day a mystery. Her mother, Nancy Ruiz, though has always had a hunch.
“I always said it from the beginning; she was sold to the highest bidder,” she said.
She and Gina’s father, Felix DeJesus, admit they knew nothing of human trafficking at that time, but the past eight years have been eye opening.
“The community out here is not aware of this situation,” said Felix DeJesus about the human trafficking problem, “and not just in the city of Cleveland, throughout the United States.”
For so many, the very concept of human trafficking, the abduction of kids who are forced into the sex trade sounds like something that happens in other states, other parts of the country, but statistics show it happens here more frequently than you’d think. In fact, in Ohio each year, it’s estimated that 1,078 children are victims of human trafficking, with another 3,016 at risk of becoming a victim.
That’s what prompted Ohio Gov. John Kasich last week to sign an executive order to form a Human Trafficking Task Force.
"Sometimes people say I push pretty hard. Can you think of anything that we should push harder for than the abolition of the slave trade among our teenagers in our state? Because I can't think of anything."
The task force is charged with coordinating law enforcement agencies to identify and rescue victims, investigate and prosecute those behind these crimes and provide the services and treatment necessary to the victims.
Helping the governor in this effort is Theresa Flores, a human trafficking survivor who taped a television public service announcement with Kasich, who called on the public’s help to stop this “modern day slave trade.”
It gives a toll free confidential hotline 888-3737-888, that victim’s or those who suspect a neighbor or family member may be a victim to call.
“I’m hoping that it will help other victims come forward and call that toll free hotline number,” said Flores.
“Nobody called a number for me, nobody rescued me or saved me because nobody knew the signs and I used to think that I was the only one. It’s very lonely. You think that you’re the only one that this horror is happening to and you have know idea how to get out,” she said.
As friends and family of Gina DeJesus gathered at West 105th Street and Lorain Avenue Monday night on the eighth anniversary of her disappearance they did so knowing that their voices are finally being heard on this matter.
“About time somebody starts to speak up because you know what we have fought for eight years,” DeJesus said, “to have somebody come out and help us and they put it on the back burner because they didn’t think that this was a problem. Well guess what, it is a problem.”
“Now we got somebody that’s backing us up,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
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