WADSWORTH — Tanisha L. Knighton, keynote speaker at a human trafficking awareness program Thursday, said Medina County is not immune.
As long as there are hotels and highways, she said, human trafficking will follow.
Human trafficking is the trade of humans for forced labor, sexual slavery or commercial exploitation.
Thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers every year.
Knighton, president of Knighton Consulting Group LLC, said there were 19,902 reports of missing children in Ohio in 2016. She said the majority of them, 18,600, were 13 to 17 years old. In Medina County that year, 69 children were reported missing.
Around the state, Franklin County led with 5,378 missing children, followed by Cuyahoga County with 3,174 and Summit County with 1,232. She said many of the missing children are being recruited as prostitutes, with the average age 11 to 14 years old.
In her PowerPoint presentation, she said victims of human trafficking often are tricked into the sex trade with promises that are never kept.
When looking for missing teens, the first place she checks is the kid’s Facebook page.
Knighton, who is black, said has she four Facebook pages, including one where she poses as a 16-year-old white teenager.
She said many recruiters for prostitution rings find new “talent” on social media.
She said once the girls are in the sex trade, some have as many as 40 sexual encounters per day.
Thursday’s awareness program, attended by more than 80 people from various agencies, was hosted by the Medina County Coalition against Human Trafficking at the Comfort Inn.
Knighton, a former missing persons’ liaison for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, as well as a social worker for the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services for 15 years, said part of her “job is to watch porn all day.”
Knighton said she’s able to identify missing persons, oftentimes children, in the pornography.
She admits she’s become hardened by working on so many human trafficking cases in her career.
“I had a human trafficker in my neighborhood,” she said. “I had a pimp in my neighborhood. That’s when it became real for me.”
In one case, a Cleveland grandfather was pimping out his granddaughter, she said.
The National Crime Information Center, a clearinghouse of crime data that can be tapped into by every criminal justice agency nationwide, now updates its information on missing persons every six months.
When Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were abducted, that wasn’t the case. The three women were kidnapped by the late Ariel Castro and held captive in his Cleveland home for almost 10 years until May 2013.
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.