History

Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking Group Is Formed

            Akron, Ohio (November 26, 2013) – For the past few years, Summit County has watched neighboring communities identify and assist victims of human trafficking. Although Summit County has made improvements to educate ourselves on how to identify victims, identifying victims of human trafficking have been few and far between. We can do better.

It is apparent that Summit County is committed to educating the community about modern day slavery – sex and labor trafficking. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies have received training and groups have hosted educational workshops including the Women’s Endowment Fund and the Close Up Program, sponsored by Children’s Services. Panelist for the 2013 Close Up Workshop included Leanne Graham, Executive Director of Victim Assistance Program, Terri Heckman, CEO of Rape Crisis Center and Battered Women’s Shelter and a Sr. Ann Victory of the Cuyahoga County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking. During the questions and answers portion of the workshop, audience members asked why Summit County does not have a group similar to Cuyahoga County’s Collaborative as they seem to be a very organized and impactful entity.

After a short side bar, Leanne and Terri announced that they would take on the responsibility of forming a human trafficking taskforce for Summit County. Leanne began researching and spreading the word about the new group while also looking for information about any groups already in existence.

City Prosecutor, Gertrude Wilms, connected Leanne with Betty Spencer, who formed the Summit County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking in 2009.  Betty was trained as a presenter by the Cuyahoga County Collaborative Against Human Trafficking and has since provided 44 presentations to groups in Summit County. As a result of Betty’s presentations, people in the community wanted to become involved – and a grassroots organization was formed.

Leanne and Betty met to discuss the history of the collaborative and to see where it was headed. With the professional community’s desire to ensure that Summit County is prepared to help victims of trafficking, it only made sense to join the already established group. A decision was made to expand the current group’s interest to include both outreach education and the direct service needs of victims in Summit County.

Even though this group will not become a non-profit, nor will it be providing direct services to victims, the group felt with the growing number of members, they must move from a grassroots entity to one of a formalized nature. Since the collaborative’s expansion in August of 2013, 88 individuals have requested to become members of the group. These members include representatives of the FBI, Summit County Sherriff Department, Barberton Police Department, Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron City Prosecutor’s Office, Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, Summit County Juvenile Court, Summit County Executive Russ Pry’s Office, Summit County Council, Summit County Children’s Services, Victim Assistance Program, Battered Women’s Shelter, Rape Crisis Center, Greenleaf Family Center, Rahab Ministries, Kent State University, Salvation Army, Shelter Care and many more concerned citizens.

With so many dedicated individuals joining together, the group elected officers to assume leadership roles to begin formalizing the group. Leanne Graham, Executive Director of Victim Assistance and Betty Spencer, Retired Teacher, were elected to share the responsibilities each as a co-chairman. Terri Heckman, CEO of Rape Crisis Center and Battered Women’s Shelter was elected the Treasurer and Susan Ross, Judicial Attorney and Magistrate with the Akron Municipal Court was elected to be the group’s Secretary.

Victim Assistance Program has volunteered to be the fiscal sponsor of the group which has allowed the collaborative to apply to local foundations for financial support of awareness projects. You can connect with us on our Facebook page or contact us to get involved. Leanne and Betty are excited to see what this great group of energized men and women can do to help eradicate human trafficking in our own backyard.