Regional Transit Authority initiative promote human trafficking awareness in public transportation

Ride the RTA often?  You'll soon be seeing posters with eyes almost glaring right at you.  That look could be a sign of a rider in need of help.

This and more is all a part of a new Regional Transit Authority initiative, promoting human trafficking awareness in public transportation.

"We carry up to 200,000 passengers per day.  So that's a lot of people within Northeast Ohio, within the greater Cleveland area.  People within those 200,000 may be going through a situation where they may be trafficked whether that be through sex slavery or forced labor," said RTA Director of Training and Employee Development, George Fields. 

In an effort to bring more awareness Fields said all RTA operators and employees are undergoing training to teach those RTA personnel what signs of a human trafficking victim look like. 

The poster you'll soon see at stations and bus stops includes several tips, one of them: [the] Victim is denied freedom of movement.  Fields said other signs include if the adult or child looks passive and/or fearful.  Signs of physical abuse are also key.  If it doesn't look right, it most likely isn't described Fields. 

Fields told NewsChannel5 the initiative came about in a transportation conference held just this past May, around the same time Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight were rescued from a Seymour Avenue home. 

The three women rescued fueled RTA's work, according to Fields and others like Renee Jones believe it's a step in the right direction.

"We just all need to be extra parents to maybe those who don't have parents," said Jones who runs the Non-profit, The Renee Jones Empowerment Center.  Located on Cleveland's West 65 th Street, the non-profit is one of the many groups and organizations working with the RTA to raise Human Trafficking awareness.  Jones told NewsChannel5 they have worked with trafficking victims from as far away as Canton. 

The non-profit assists victims individually, helping to provide any services they may need such as housing, counseling and so forth.

"I think it's great, the RTA initiative because it's public transportation, there's lots of people coming in and out of those different terminals and to be able to educate people on what this looks like, what the signs are, so that if they see it, they can identify it and help save this from happening to more people," said Jones.

Other efforts to curb Human Trafficking included Gov. John Kasich's Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, created last year.

A recent study done by the group estimates almost 1,100 children are victims of human sex trafficking each year and that thousands more are at risk. 

Authorities say one reason Ohio is chosen as a location for sex trafficking is because of its close proximity to international airports, Canada, the East Coast and military bases.

Homeland Security, Project Star, Bellefaire Homeless Youth Program and the National Human Trafficking Hotline are also working in conjunction with the RTA.  

The RTA also went one step further with an app, that  can also serve to curb Human Trafficking.  Anyone that sees something suspicious will be able to take a photo and send it directly to the RTA Police through the app, "iWatch RTA."

The RTA already works to assist riders in danger or in need of help with their "Safe Place" program.  An RTA spokesperson said they're now trying to reach out to those who can't come forward: the victims of human trafficking.

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