An Ohio man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Maryland on human trafficking and prostitution charges.
LORAIN, Ohio - Formed just two years ago, a group that helps victims of human trafficking in Lorain County is busier than ever.
Lorain County's mix of interstates, motels, cities and farms creates a crossroads for human traffickers. Of the 15 victims they have helped, ages range from 14 to 26.
Armed with a new PSA and 10 new billboards, a group is raising awareness about an issue striking big cities and small towns.
"We need a safe house because a lot of times a victim of human trafficking has no place to go," said Mindi Kuebler with the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County.
The Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County is opening a new safe house in a protected location where victims will be provided with more than food and shelter.
"We'll set them up with mental health help or medical needs that we might come across and get them acclimated into society to regular normal society," Kuebler said. Kuebler is a forensic nurse with the Sexual Assault Care Unit of Lorain County located in Lorain's renowned Nord Center.
The collaborative is also doing a soap campaign with local motels in May.
"The soap campaign is 'Save our adolescent children against prostitution,'" said Kuebler.
Soap labeled with hotline help numbers for victims will be placed in local motels in Lorain, Elyria and throughout Lorain County. Motel rooms are often used in the illegal sex trade.
"So that if someone picks up that bar of soap and feel they need help, they have a number to call and can that and put it in their shoe or hide it somewhere," Kuebler said.
Lorain County's large farming area attracts migrant workers. Vulnerable, they can become targets of slave labor and the sex trade while being threatened with not having proper papers.
Through referrals, Kuebler's colleague, Shawn Cleveland, reaches out to victims afraid to come forward.
"I let them know first we're not police we're not there to arrest them, just want to make sure they're okay," said Cleveland.
Experts in the U.S. increasingly are applying the label "human trafficking" to homegrown prostitution. Lawmakers, police and prosecutors are starting to shift their view on this, too.
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