Lorain human trafficking survivor shares experience in hopes of ending Ohio's crisis
Ohio has one of the highest rates of human trafficking across the country.
Teresa MerriWeather is a Human Trafficking survivor. She's using her past experience to educate people on the crisis across the world - and right here in the Mahoning Valley - through her seminar.
“Everyday I wake up on purpose,” she said. “I no longer have the thoughts of suicide from what happened to me, dealing with my trauma. I have the tools to help me in my tool belt.”
The seminar teaches people how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and the emotional trauma it has on its victims.
“You need to be paying attention to someone's physical appearance,” Merriweather said.
Some red flags she told the audience to watch for are sudden changes in appearance with hair colors and styles. She said often traffickers will take their victims to salons to make them unrecognizable.
“Also non verbal communication,” Merriweather said is another red flag to look for in someone who is being trafficked. “Is that person not giving you any type of communication? They look controlled, they're not giving you any type of eye contact.”
Victims may also show a sign with their hand to signal that they are in trouble with their fist closed around their thumb.
Merriweather said people who are the most vulnerable to human trafficking are ones in low socioeconomic and high crime areas.
“They start grooming them and telling them things that they want to hear … ‘I'll love you. Your parents may not love you but I'll love you. I got money’,” she said about what the predators tell victims to keep them around.
Ohio ranks fifth for human trafficking incidents in the nation, according to HTCourts.org.
“We have great infrastructure here but it also perpetuates the trafficking,” Cathy Hergenrother. Director of Mahoning Pathways HUB who put on the seminar said.
“We’re a source state. We’re used for recruitment, transiting so they move them in and out of Ohio and we’re also used as a final destination for victims of human trafficking,” Merriweather said.
Human Trafficking has no set age. Young kids, teens, and older people are all trafficked - and it's not just females.
“There are women that like little boys just like they like little girls. There are men that like little girls and like boys,” Merriweather said.
The Mahoning Pathways HUB plans to have a specialized human trafficking and substance use employee by 2026.
Meriweather is working with the Ohio Attorney General to mandate training for certain professions to be able to recognize and report human trafficking to bring it to an end.
“People are for sale… Humans selling humans,” Merriweather said. “Get these traffickers sent away to prison where they can be away from the community (so) the community can be safe.”