The number of human trafficking cases in Summit County is down slightly, but the crime may be evolving.
Heather DiMartino is an assistant prosecutor with the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office. She say the decrease is thanks to two recent busts in the area and increased cooperation from hotel owners
“We also do training through the collaborative: the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking. They go out to all the hotels in the area and talk to the managers and make sure that folks are aware of the red flags. So if [they see] an older gentleman with a young girl and they’re in and out of a room a bunch times, they know to keep an eye on that.”
Annemarie Mullenix co-chairs the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking. The group organizes an event each year for Human Trafficking Awareness month.
She says the problem is, traffickers are changing their methods, including using short-term online rentals – like Airbnb’s – instead of hotels.
“You normally don't meet the owner -- you can make the payment without ever meeting them. You can rent it for as long as you want. And no one is ever going to know what you did in there. So that's a huge trend right now.”
Mullenix adds that by this time next year, she hopes to establish a group in Portage County to fight trafficking, similar to the ones in Summit and Cuyahoga Counties.
The Summit County collaborative was formed in 2009 and began holding annual forums at the library in 2015.