Senator Portman and UT join forces to fight online human trafficking

Senator Portman and UT join forces to fight online human trafficking

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - As technology evolves, so does the way we use it. And while we'd like to think of it for good, sometimes it isn't.

Now, the internet is being used for human trafficking. But several groups are working together to bring an end to this.

Human trafficking has moved from street corners to smart phones.

Tuesday Senator Rob Portman along with the University of Toledo wanted to raise awareness about sex trafficking online along with their fight to stop it.

"It can happen in any family," said University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber. "It can happen to anyone and we all have to understand it, educate our kids, educate our community and be on the lookout for this."

Tuesday several gathered to learn about sex trafficking specifically online through a site called Senator Rob Portman spent more than a year investigating the website, on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), in an effort to prosecute them.

"We're pushing back on this website, which is where a lot of the increased activity has occurred," said Senator Rob Portman. "I am hopeful that we'll be able to also pass legislation to be able to work with the online companies to try to stop the selling of girls and women online."

This battle to expose Backpage is something local champions are excited to see.

"I love that because that is social justice," said Dr. Celia Williamson, director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo.

"It's fighting for the vulnerable and it's going after a powerful organization that has a lot of money and our nation said, we don't care, we'll protect children first."

After a panel discussion the university premiered "I am Jane Doe," a documentary telling the story of victims of online human trafficking. Those in attendance were hoping to learn more.

"The more we talk about it the more we are out there combating it," said Asma Abdel Halim, chair of the department of Women's and Gender Studies at UT. "That is going to reduce the incidents of trafficking."

"What I hope to achieve is having a little bit more enlightenment about the topic," said Emily Krull, a student at UT. "About what is happening today and if there is anything I can do to help in my community."

Senator Portman says the fight against online human trafficking continues as they work towards legislation in the future.

If you want to see the documentary discussing the website Backpage and the PSI investigation against them, "I am Jane Doe" will be available on Netflix starting May 26th.

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