Volunteers for She Has a Name pose, making the symbol L with their fingers to symbolize life beyond the streets. Photo Credits: Courtesy of Whitney Varnau

Volunteers for She Has A Name pose, making the symbol L with their fingers to symbolize life beyond the streets. Photo Credits: Courtesy of Whitney Varnau

Although Women’s History Month might be coming to an end, those working with the nonprofit organization She Has A Name will continue their work to spread awareness about human trafficking.

SHAN, located in downtown Columbus, has three main goals: to support survivors and help them find employment, to educate the community about the issue and to collaborate with other anti-human trafficking organizations throughout Columbus to create a united front.

“We want to see victims — all those impacted by trafficking — restored into society and thriving in their community,” said Whitney Varnau, the community engagement director of SHAN and a 2013 Ohio State alumna in speech and hearing studies. “Women are important, they are valuable and they are worth loving, but unfortunately a lot of women get tangled up (in human trafficking).”

Human trafficking refers to the forced exploitation of a person for sex or labor, and is a prevalent problem in Ohio, which was ranked fourth in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases reported in 2016, according to a report from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

Last year, 375 cases of human trafficking were reported in Ohio, nearly four times the amount reported in 2012.

Courtney Schmackers, the development director for SHAN, said this is more than a shocking statistic.

“I think it also speaks to the level of awareness that exists here in the city and how individuals are able to correctly identify cases and report them,” she said.

Spreading awareness about human trafficking is a critical step toward connecting victims with resources, which Varnau said is part of the reason why she has worked to involve OSU students with SHAN.

“College students, specifically ones at Ohio State, have a lot of voice, have a lot of talent, and gifts and resources,” Varnau said. “I get really fired up about students, especially college students, caring about things that are bigger than themselves, and I think trafficking is one of those issues that is bigger than ourselves.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Varnau has connected about 100 OSU student volunteers with SHAN, working with them to do things like hang Christmas lights for the women in a local safe house or prepare hygiene bags which include toiletries and other feminine products to pass out in the streets.

Meghan Cahill, a second-year in Islamic studies, is one of the students who volunteered with Varnau. Now, she leads her own group of OSU student volunteers once a month, collaborating with partners of SHAN to spread awareness about human trafficking and the resources available to victims.

“Not only is human trafficking this invisible thing, but it’s happening all around us,” she said. “It’s happening in a much more visible way just a few blocks off campus, and while that might be out of walking distance for us — not in our Ohio State bubble — I think it’s important to have people realize that, and for them to take steps to be uncomfortable and to embrace the brokenness of our world.”

Students looking to get involved with SHAN can participate in the organization’s three training classes, which are hosted each month. The classes aim to teach community members about the human trafficking situation in Ohio and how to respond to instances of human trafficking, as well as to connect participants with a number of anti-human trafficking groups throughout Columbus.

“(Human trafficking) is very real and present in Columbus, Ohio,” Varnau said. “So what can students do? Be trained. Be educated.”
The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.