A psychologist at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine is partnering with the social service agency Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) to identify and assess treatment needs of human trafficking survivors in Ohio. This work is thanks to a $900,000 grant ($300,000 renewed over three years) from the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) at the Administration for Children and Families.
"Ohio has the fourth highest rate of human trafficking in the country,” says Maria Espinola, PsyD, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and a UC Health psychologist. "Cincinnati’s geographic location, transient populations and high rates of poverty and homelessness, paired with the growing opioid epidemic, places already vulnerable women and children at an increased risk for sexual exploitation and trafficking.”
Espinola said she chose to partner with CUB due to the "amazing work they already do for survivors.” CUB is the longest-running social service agency in Cincinnati, addressing the needs of urban women, children, families and communities, and has served over 800 victims of human trafficking since 2006.
Viann Barnett, director of CUB, has worked for the past nine years to help victims reclaim their lives from the horrors of human trafficking. "Off the Streets, a marquee program of CUB, has been at the forefront of addressing the needs of victims of human trafficking and has changed the lives of many,” she says. "We are excited to have UC as a partner on this grant which will help identify the treatment needs of victims and incorporate evidence-based, culturally-sensitive and trauma-informed therapeutic techniques to help the city’s most vulnerable. It is an unfortunate, even horrendous reality that human slavery happens in our own towns and neighborhoods, but it’s one we must confront.”
"Working with underserved populations has been a pleasure and a passion for Dr. Espinola, and it speaks volumes of her character,” says Angelik Smith, director of Strategic Development for CUB. "What this partnership with UC means to CUB is an opportunity to directly impact the lives of victims of domestic human trafficking and to expand our services to reach more women in need. We currently have a waiting list of 45 women seeking refuge and recovery from this horrific life.”
"This funding will allow us to expand the services we provide. The worst feeling our staff endures is the sadness when we have to turn a woman away due to lack of resources, beds or availability, and in some cases, they may never make it back,” she adds.
The grant will serve to improve the identification of domestic victims of sex trafficking, expand collaboration and partnerships to implement multidisciplinary, trauma-informed approaches and strengthen the delivery of services to domestic victims of sex trafficking. "We expect to share the information generated by the program with the field and engage in efforts to integrate project knowledge into policy and practice,” says Espinola. She has presented the project to the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission and is currently mentoring medical and psychology students from UC who will work with the human trafficking survivors served by the programs this grant helps to fund.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Ohio’s rate of human trafficking in the country is behind only California, Texas and Florida. In the last decade, 3,693 human trafficking-related calls were made to help lines in the state.
"This statistic is not something we can stand idly by and accept,” says CUB Board Chair Kathy Haines. "The work of CUB and the contribution by UC are important steps to turn the tide in this epidemic.”