Case Western Reserve University symposium on March 2 to explore solutions for a crime growing nationally and in Ohio

At this moment, there are more than an estimated 30 million enslaved people around the world.

Ohio is indicative of the problem: The state ranks fourth in the number of sex-trafficking hotline calls in 2016, after California, Texas and Florida, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC).

And the numbers keep climbing. Sex and labor trafficking represent a criminal industry worth about $150 billion each year, second only to illegal narcotics, according to NHTRC estimates.

To raise awareness and help counter the scourge, Case Western Reserve University is hosting the third-annual Human Trafficking Symposium at the Tinkham Veale University Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, March 2.

To register for the symposium, email or call 216.368.1806.

“When we think of slavery, today’s human trafficking isn’t what comes to mind,” said Maureen Guirguis (Kenny), a professor of law and co-director and co-founder of the Human Trafficking Law Project at the Case Western Reserve School of Law. “We pass victims of human trafficking on the street. These victims are hidden in plain sight.”

Ohio is susceptible to trafficking for several reasons, Guirguis said. The Buckeye State’s extensive highway system allows easy transport of victims, as well as a large number of truck stops that serve as active prostitution sites.

In 2015 and 2016, the Ohio Attorney General’s office awarded the School of Law two grants, worth almost $1 million to continue work to combat human trafficking.

At the event, experts will discuss efforts to help survivors return to healthy, productive lives—as well as laws passed (and pending) to address the issue, long-term effects on survivors and the role of social services.

Guirguis said most victims in Ohio are recruited on the internet and locally trafficked.

“Globally, the labor trafficking makes up the majority of human trafficking,” Guirguis said. “In Ohio and across the U.S., it’s sex trafficking. Prostitution has been taken off the streets and put on the internet.”

In addition to Guirguis, the event will feature, among others:

  • Shane Bates, an agent with the Human Trafficking Task Force commissioned by the Ohio Attorney General; he has investigated over 100 sexual offense cases, breaking up several trafficking rings in Cleveland and Akron.
  • Holly Welsh, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor and supervisor of its Human Trafficking Unit; she has prosecuted dozens of defendants for sex trafficking and prostitution related offenses.
  • Renee Jones, president and CEO and founder of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center, a non-profit organization that fosters opportunities for the disadvantaged, empowering individuals to advocate for themselves and to improve their quality of life.

For more information, contact Colin McEwen at

This article was originally published Feb. 21, 2018.