How to spot sex-trafficked girls in plain sight - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

How to spot sex-trafficked girls in plain sight

After years of enduring physical and sexual abuse at home, EleSondra, known to friends as El, was forced into captivity where she was prostituted before she was even a teenager. After years of enduring physical and sexual abuse at home, EleSondra, known to friends as El, was forced into captivity where she was prostituted before she was even a teenager.
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TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) -

EleSondra DeRomano's life has been anything but easy. After years of enduring physical and sexual abuse at home, EleSondra, known to friends as El, was forced into captivity where she was prostituted before she was even a teenager.

“I was taken from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I was trafficked in Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta," DeRomano said. "I was found at 12 1/2."

While heartbreaking, DeRomano's story isn't particularly unique. Nearly five thousand girls have been rescued from sex trafficking since 2003 and the FBI estimates thousands of others are still out there. The average age of these girls is just 13 years old.

"They kept me for a year and a half until a trick saved me," DeRomano said.

One of the John's DeRomano was forced to have sex with tipped off police, and she was rescued after 18 grueling months holed up in a hotel, held against her will. 

“I couldn't walk out the door because I was trafficked out of a hotel. It wasn't an option for me. I very seldom saw out the door," DeRomano said.

Many trafficking victims like DeRomano can't physically leave to get help, or their captors threaten to harm their families. That's why many times girls are rescued through tips from the community.


How sex trafficking is changing police response to prostitution


Celia Williamson is a professor of social work at the University of Toledo. She’s worked tirelessly to bring awareness to human trafficking victims in Northwest Ohio and nationally.

"We need people to be the eyes and the ears," Williamson said. "Yes, we have law enforcement; yes, we have criminal justice responses. But they can't be everywhere all the time."

She's helping companies and community leaders develop training programs to help their workers become those eyes and ears.

"If we don't intervene, 77 percent of those young kids will go into adult prostitution where they will experience drug abuse, high HIV risk, violence—those types of things," Williamson said.

Truck drivers, hairdressers and nurses are among just a few professions getting specialized training on how to spot young girls in trouble.

Kris Napier, a sexual assault nurse at ProMedica, is one of those professionals training others to spot the signs.

"I know that they're coming in, but we may just not be identifying them," Napier said.

She says nurses are now being schooled on how to identify trafficking victims coming into the emergency room.

"We call it red flags, red flags, we're looking for the flags, and then it’s 'what can we do to help?'" Napier said.

Those red flags include a man being with a young girl seeking treatment, often speaking on her behalf. Or when a girl's story about her injuries doesn’t seem to add up.

Shaun Temple is a barber on Toledo’s east side. He’s been trained to spot young girls lurking around his shop for clients.

"It's just sad to see any young girl out here doing that," Temple said.

He calls outside agencies for help at least once a month to get these girls off the streets.

"You never know which ones are underage or what cause they all look so older now," he said.

So what should you look out for if these trafficked girls are hiding in plain sight? 

  • Experts say notice her body language, does she seem confused?
  • If you ask her questions, do her answers seem rehearsed?
  • Is she with an older man?
  • Does it seem like she's being controlled?
  • Does she look too young for the clothing she's are wearing?

"The first thing I would look for is the girl's eyes—are they downcasted?” DeRomano said. “When they're under pimp control, you're not supposed to look anybody in the eyes."

EleSondra knows all too well what these trafficked girls are going through. She says if you see something, don't be afraid to speak up.

"No matter what. If I felt like something was going on, I'd act on it.  Cuz if I'm wrong, woo hoo, I'm wrong. But if I'm right, I could be saving that girl's life," she said.

For more information on human trafficking check out the Trafficking Resource Center or S.T.A.R.S. Toledo.

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