The commercial area north of Canton was among the top three locations listed in escort advertisements in Northeast Ohio, according to a recent human trafficking report.
Areas identified as North Canton accounted for 117 ads. Another 35 came from the nearby Belden Village and The Strip areas of Jackson Township.
To complete the study, nine people examined 2,868 advertisements on Backpage.com, a classified ad website, between Dec. 15, 2014, and March 23.
The Imagine Foundation, AmeriCorps, Victim Assistance Program, Partners Against Trafficking Humans Stark (PATHS), and Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking commissioned the study.
“This really kind of shows us where the hot spots are, so where commercial sex is happening,” said Elana Koh, who worked on the report as an AmeriCorps PATH member. “And anywhere that you have commercial sex happening, you’re more than likely going to have sex trafficking.”
Similar Backpage.com reports have been done in other cities, such as Cincinnati, but this is a first for the Akron-Canton area, Koh said. The study found an average of 410 advertisements posted each day for a total of about 3,000 ads during the three-month period.
Researchers estimated the website, chosen for its popularity of adult service ads, generated $20,000 from escort ads during that time. The ads themselves likely garnered $1.29 million.
The report breaks down ads by day of week, gender, race and whether the escorts host or travel to the caller but didn’t study whether events may create more demand.
“Human trafficking happens all the time, along with the commercial sex industry happens all the time, so it’s not necessarily linked to one specific event,” Koh said.
IT HAPPENS HERE
The state Attorney General’s Office identified 181 human trafficking victims in 2014, according to data presented by the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.
Four other state agencies reported between four and 83 cases, but the numbers may overlap, according to state spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. Of those, the majority of people were trafficked for sex.
(Information has been changed to correct an error at 3 p.m. 8/4/15. See correction at end of story.)
Last week, Jackson police arrested an Akron man accused of bringing a 16-year-old girl to a motel to have sex for money. They also arrested a Cuyahoga Falls woman accused of offering sex for money.
In July, a 38-year-old Plain Township man was charged with human trafficking in a case involving underage girls from the Canton area and other communities. He’s accused of paying a 13-year-old girl $20 to engage in sexual conduct.
A 37-year-old Cuyahoga Falls man was arrested in September 2014 after placing an online ad to purchase a child and driving to Alliance to buy a 10-year-old girl. An undercover officer responded to the advertisement, and the man was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
In the past two years, North Canton police raided a massage parlor, Louisville police arrested a woman operating a massage business, and Jackson police shut down a massage parlor and arrested five women after investigations into prostitution. Multiple agencies assisted in most of the investigations, in which officers often used Backpage.com or other online sites to check complaints or contact the advertiser.
“It’s something that, if we have down time, I would look at it, but mainly it’s just when someone tips us off,” said Detective Randy Manse of the North Canton Police Department.
The commercial areas of the Belden Village area and The Strip are often mistakenly considered North Canton, he said. The city hasn’t had any human trafficking cases in the five years he has been with the Detective Bureau.
COMBATING SEX CRIMES
Other areas identified in the report — Fairlawn, Cleveland and East Avenue in Akron — are largely within close proximity to highways and hotels.
They provide easy access to transportation and meeting locations for commercial or coerced sexual activities.
“Over the last three, four years we’ve seen an increase at the hotels as well as the travel plaza,” said Detective Gary Frascone of the Jackson Township Police Department.
Jackson officers combat the commercial sex industry and try to help trafficking victims by conducting training and forming relationships with hospitality workers, who are often trained to spot signs of human trafficking at an individual corporate level as well. Frascone said they have worked with other agencies to do the same at schools and the county juvenile detention center.
Officers also monitor sites such as Backpage.com. Frascone said the township has more instances of commercial sex, but he has been involved in two federal-level human trafficking cases. Other times, an offender may be charged with a state offense when there’s not enough evidence but it would otherwise fit the definition of human trafficking. The township has handled no labor trafficking cases, though immigration agencies have done investigations in the area, Frascone said.
“We’re not going to see it as much as the big cities, but we do see it,” he said.
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @kbyerREP
Correction: The state Attorney General’s Office identified 181 human trafficking victims in 2014, according to data presented by the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. Four other state agencies reported between four and 83 cases, but the numbers may overlap, according to state spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. Of those, the majority of people were trafficked for sex. Wrong totals were printed when this story was first pubished online 8/4/15.