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Ohio human trafficking victims say what they really want is to be normal

(February 28, 2019) — When Hollie Daniels was 15 years old, she moved to Columbus to live with her mother.

Within two weeks, her mother had exploited, trafficked and drugged her. They were soon smoking crack together on the streets, Daniels recalls.

After enduring 17 years of sexual and mental abuse, Daniels — a survivor of human trafficking — is now a student at Columbus State Community College, mending her once-shattered life.

“What we really want to be is normal,” she said. “We want degrees. We want families. We want a life, and it was stolen from us at a young age. … If I can’t make a change, I hope somebody else can. I’m hopeful.”

Daniels was one of nine human trafficking survivors who spoke Thursday at the 10th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day, hosted by Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, and Sen. TeresaFedor, D-To ledo, at the Statehouse. This year’s event focused on the correlation between the opioid epidemic and human trafficking.

Many of the survivors shared similar experiences: They were abused at a young age, sold by family members or loved ones, addicted to drugs, formerly incarcerated and looking for a second chance at life.

Felicia Snell said she was trafficked by her foster mother. Stephanie Rollins was 12 when she “ran right into (her) trafficker’s arms” after being sexually abused by a babysitter. Latice Campbell was abused by a cousin-in-law and sold by her grandmother. Others were trafficked by boyfriends or husbands.

Almost all of the survivors were, at one point, addicted to drugs. Jessica Lyles said her pimp used heroine against her. The drug’s allure kept her enslaved.

Despite escaping from human trafficking, the survivors face barriers in the present because of their traumatic, often criminalized, pasts. Snell and Lyles shared their struggles with finding housing and jobs. Snell is currently homeless.

“I don’t want society to treat me like my record,” she said.

Fedor and Galonski said they hope to translate the event into landmark legislation that will help end human trafficking. Fedor said she is currently working with Attorney General Dave Yost’s office on the issue. Yost announced Thursday that his office will spearhead a new program to help survivors remove tattoos or other markers that once “branded” them as property.

”(Today) was very impactful, very intentional and is going to have a huge, fresh movement into really working on ending demand. And that’s really where we want to go,” Fedor said.