People were mortified when it hit the headlines. A young mother with a mental disability. A little girl rescued on her birthday. Both held captive for two years in a "House of Horrors."
Locked up. Beat up. Tied up. Food deprived.
Snakes. Reptiles. Dogs.
It was federally prosecuted as a straight-up slavery case in the Northern District of Ohio.
How could this have happened here? they asked, when it hit the headlines.
Here, in the United States. There, in Ohio.
Easily, really. Sadly. It happens daily.
"How did they not recognize that it happens here? Routinely?" the FBI case agent wondered.
It happened as a result of a cycle of continuing abuse. It happened through a degradation of circumstances over time. It happened through grooming, so gradual it was imperceptible. It happened via lies told to the victims and anyone watching.
It happened because so much was hidden by siloed, separated systems.
It happened because proliferated misinformation about trafficking causes people to miss identifying the real thing when it is happening right under their noses.
Deception. That is traffickers' primary weapon. It is evil's primary weapon. Deception that flourishes amid disconnection.
It's fitting that the house where it happened was full of snakes. Family pets. And a means of inducing fear that caused compliance. Coercion.
There is a story about the beginning of time, when a snake slithered up to a woman, took the truth just a little off track, and caused all of humanity to fall into captivity. Before it became something to fear, the snake appeared to be and to offer, something beautiful.
That's what happened here. The traffickers promised the woman a place to stay. They promised the young mother assistance navigating children's services and getting her daughter back. A daughter, it turned out, who'd landed in the system because of the trafficker's trick. Deception.
It stopped through connection. It stopped through compassion. It stopped because a police officer took time to ask a question.
It stopped because a community spoke up. One after another they spoke up, courageous in the face of fear.
It stopped because every sector came together. To offer services, to conduct an investigation, to prosecute a case, to share the nugget of information they knew.
They stood up. They spoke up.
They spoke through fear. They were afraid of their own secrets being exposed. They were afraid of violence against them. They were afraid of prison. They were afraid of losing a job, a relationship, a reputation.
They spoke up anyway. Every one of their voices mattered. Those who were seen and heard and those who never set foot inside the courtroom.
It stopped because when they spoke in spite of their fear, the dots connected, and truth went on the record.
First one. And then another and another.
A jury decided. Traffickers went to federal prison. Punishment for the offense they'd committed, protection that spared their next victim.