Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force January Spotlight Series
The Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force is releasing weekly spotlights throughout the month of January for Human Trafficking Awareness Month. These spotlights are intended to share new resources, initiatives, and information to aid in Ohio’s anti-trafficking response efforts.
Tusc Against Trafficking
Tusc Against Trafficking Featuring Robin Bowdish & Meghan Phillips
Tusc Against Trafficking is the anti-trafficking coalition in Tuscarawas County. Tusc Against Trafficking was a sub-recipient of the Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force’s Look Beneath the Surface grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Trafficking in Persons. Link to website.
Robin was the Regional Human Trafficking Coordinator for eastern Ohio through the Look Beneath the Surface Anti-Trafficking Grant Program. Robin provided technical assistance to Tusc Against Trafficking as well as the anti-trafficking coalitions in the eastern Ohio region.
Meghan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for COMPASS (a sexual assault service provider) as well as the current Chair of Tusc Against Trafficking. Meghan leads the coalition’s efforts by providing strategic direction and administrative support.
Q&A with Robin Bowdish and Meghan Phillips
How did Tusc Against Trafficking first get started as a coalition?
Robin: Everything started by bringing people together from agencies in Tuscarawas County, like the Family and Children First Council, hospitals, the children’s advocacy center, law enforcement, and the courts. We had initial conversations about suspected human trafficking in the area. Based on these conversations, we decided to move forward with a coalition. We brought in The Salvation Army of Central Ohio to lead us through strategic planning, and through that, we created a matrix of services available through the involved agencies. It was necessary to first figure out our service plan before raising awareness. We didn’t want to encourage people to report human trafficking and then not know how to respond. It damages your credibility.
What strategies have been successful in engaging residents of Tuscarawas County on the issue of human trafficking?
Meghan: We offer CEUs as part of our human trafficking presentations to area businesses and organizations, and those have been a big incentive to attend. Our public awareness activities have also been met with success, such as our billboards, podcast, and social media presence.
Robin: We also have great support from our local radio stations. They spent a lot of time with us taping and airing content. I’m not sure if bigger cities understand this, but locals depend on the local radio. They’re almost like family, so it’s an important source of information. But the biggest engager has been our Facebook page. A lot of people really pay attention to that. People from other counties would comment on posts, especially when we put up our first billboard. There were people from neighboring counties who would reach out to learn more about how to get involved, and I’d be able to connect them to the right contact in their county.
Tusc Against Trafficking recently completed a podcast series. What was the purpose behind the series, and how can people access the episodes?
Meghan: Tusc Against Trafficking wanted to bust up myths that surround the issue of human trafficking and really provide community members with tools to recognize and combat it in a realistic way. We set out to answer questions from community members that have been on their minds for a long time.
Robin: We also strongly focused on getting local professionals involved, so that listeners would have a person they could reach out to from their area. We really tried to give people tools to connect with others, particularly during COVID.
What does human trafficking look like in Tuscarawas County?
Robin: We think labor trafficking is a big issue for us in Tuscarawas County. The history of labor trafficking in our county goes clear back to the mid-1960s to when farmers were trying to find temporary housing for upwards of 25 people who were coming in during growing and harvest season. That kind of thing apparently seems to have been around the county for a long time. We have a lot of agricultural work, landscape workers, and restaurants. Those are venues and industries through which people may be vulnerable to labor trafficking.
Meghan: COMPASS has also worked with a number of individuals who have been sex trafficked, even if they didn’t identify as such. This kind of exploitation mostly happens within the context of a relationship. Traffickers are mentors, guardians, and significant others. We see a very different picture than what’s portrayed in the media. There are no red light districts here. It’s starting in the home.
Robin, as the Regional Human Trafficking Coordinator, you worked with coalitions throughout eastern Ohio. Did you identify shared strategies for success in coalition building?
Robin: We have seen success in our county and in other counties when an agency allows for a staff person to use some of their paid time to lead the coalition. This organization-level and individual commitment allows for coalition stability and growth. Allowing Meghan to lead the coalition through COMPASS is a huge help in our county. When there isn’t that one point person or organization, it can be challenging to maintain a coalition.
How does Tusc Against Trafficking engage directly with individuals who may be vulnerable to human trafficking?
Meghan: We recently began collaborating with area churches to start a drop-in center in Tuscarawas County. Community members needing physical and emotional support can drop in and receive a care package. Several agencies also provide crisis intervention directly to potential victims and those at risk of human trafficking.
Robin: One of our biggest supporters is Toward the Goal Ministries. Prior to the COVID shut-downs, a few of its staff members would relationally connect with girls at the local girls group home in New Philadelphia. They would give the girls a nonjudgmental ear to make sure they know someone cares about them and that they have someone they can call on if they need support. Toward the Goal Ministries has also met with the women who work at the local strip club prior to their shifts to build relationships and offer support.
Over the last several years, Tusc Against Trafficking has invested resources and time in raising awareness of human trafficking. Is it paying off?
Meghan: Definitely. Our social media page is getting more hits and interaction than it ever has. Community members are now talking about human trafficking and are wanting to help out in whatever ways they can and are becoming more knowledgeable. That is a huge step for Tuscarawas County.
Robin: I agree. The awareness activities have also allowed us to connect with the schools. We gave presentations for the guidance counselors, and now the school calls us with concerns about potential victims. Before the COVID shut-downs, we also gave a presentation at the Tuscarawas County Public Library and there were almost 100 attendees. They thought they were coming to learn how to prevent their kids from getting kidnapped by a stranger in a white van or how to keep their kids off of the internet. They came in with an unrealistic picture of human trafficking, and we were able to provide accurate information as well as realistic and healthy ways to keep their kids safe.
Thank you for donating to Del Pueblo, Inc. Your donation will contribute to the development and continue support of our community.