Students participate at a rally for the Why Us? Anti-Human Trafficking student organization at Ohio State in March 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Why Us

An Ohio State student organization is working to educate the public about the human trafficking crisis shortly after an Ohio grant put the issue more in the public eye.

Why Us? Is a group founded to spread awareness of the severity of trafficking and its impact on college campuses.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced earlier this month that Ohio will receive a $10,000 grant from his office of Crime Victim Services division, which will be used to remove the tattoos and markings from human trafficking victims. The removal of these markings or “brands” will dispel the idea that these victims were once considered someone’s property.

Ray’chel Wilson, a fourth-year in public health and vice president of Why Us?, said the grant will be the first step in helping people realize that not only is human trafficking an issue, but also that people are not objects.

“We think that [the grant] is going to help people realize that humans are not for sale because those tattoos are placed there to show that these women and men are property,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that it will not only be freeing for the person, but that it will send a message to both the national and local communities that people cannot be marked as property.

“We are human, we have dignity, we are not for sale,” Wilson said.

Shaye Murray, a third-year in sociology and president of the organization, said the grant is also evidence of the realization that human trafficking is growing continuously.

“Ohio is noticing that the epidemic is getting higher in our city,” Murray said.

Murray said people who hear about the grant or meet survivors will have questions about trafficking and that that could spark more research about the topic.

Wilson said that sex trafficking affects mostly women, while labor-related trafficking affects mostly men, but aside from that, human trafficking affects everybody.

“Now, when we look at different types of trafficking, that’s when we see different possibilities,” Wilson said. “Ninety-eight percent of sexual exploitation when it comes to trafficking is leading to women, whereas 2 percent is men. When we are looking at labor exploitation, it’s about 60 percent men, 40 percent women.”

Murray said human trafficking is the harmful nature that pimps force upon their involuntary victims, calling it “the force, fraud or coercion of sex involuntarily.”

“So usually we have these johns or pimps who are requesting these things from these individuals or female victims, and they are not getting anything in return, and they are not volunteering to do this, so they are obviously being forced,” Murray said.

Wilson shared a story from a member of the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force who witnessed a fake massage parlor that had potential sex trafficking activity.

While attending a movie in the early evening, the witness noticed that in the massage parlor, there were a lot of men coming in and out. In addition, the business was open late hours longer than the usual 9-5.

These, along with many other social cues are signs of trafficking, Wilson said.

“You always want to look out for those signs of someone being unable to speak on what their situation is. We always say ‘If you see something, say something,’” Wilson said.

Why Us? takes part in educating the Ohio State community about human trafficking not only through their many events and rallies, but also through social media. They discuss current events that are related while sharing facts and statistics, Wilson said.

Wilson said that through social media, the group will dispel myths about human trafficking on Mondays. On Fridays, the pages will share facts and statistics about trafficking.

Murray’s advice to start making a change in the world of sex trafficking is to become educated on the topic and then talk about it with friends, family and loved ones.

“Start having those uncomfortable, difficult conversations that everybody does not like having,” Murray said. “Those conversations are very important and critical in reducing this epidemic, and as much as we don’t talk about it, we need to educate the people we are around. We have to learn how to be more comfortable with those situations.”