By the time thousands of basketball fans get into Dayton for the First Four NCAA basketball tournament this week, illegal sex trafficking encounters will have been set up there for weeks. Savvy traffickers know events that attract lots of people are an easy way to hide their illegal activity.
Police are on alert, but traffickers try to stay one step ahead, advertising as far away as Europe and scheduling encounters in discrete places.
Dayton is a hotbed of labor and sex trafficking, says the University of Dayton's Human Rights Center. Advocacy director Tony Talbott says the city's easy access to the rest of the country with the intersection of I-70 and I-75 doesn't help.
"Ohio has the most truck stops of any state in the country, which is a good indicator of how much traffic moves through Ohio," he says. "Our central location makes us ideal for warehousing and distribution companies and shipping companies - also unfortunately for human trafficking and of course drug trafficking."
In 2017, the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation reported 202 human trafficking investigations leading to 70 arrests and 18 successful criminal convictions.
Statistics also show female victims of sex trafficking were the most commonly identified human trafficking victims. In 2017, 208 potential victims were identified.
Talbott says the victims' stories are diverse.
"I've heard many stories of children being trafficked by their own parents in their own bedrooms here in Montgomery County,” Talbott says. “Parents selling sex for drug money or rent money."
The Human Rights Center and Abolition Ohio, another anti-human trafficking organization, focus on preventing victimization and perpetration. Talbott is seeing an increase in savvy recruiters and savvy advertisement.
"They can actually arrange commercial sex days or weeks ahead of time from somewhere else in the world, scrolling through ads, finding the people they want, arranging for payment, setting up a location," he says. "Then they come in very discretely and in a relatively safe way with a low risk of being caught."
A University of Cincinnati study on the prevalence of minor sex trafficking in Ohio is due out this spring.