Human Trafficking in My Hometown: Cincinnati

Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is positioned on the Ohio River—the border that runaway slaves from the South aimed to cross, after which they’d have more support in getting to freedom. (Contrary to popular belief, the Underground Railroad didn’t actually exist in the South. It started north of the Ohio River.) So Cincinnati is a symbol of freedom in that way.


I grew up on the northern border of Kentucky. Cincinnati is right across the Ohio river, so sometimes I tell people I grew up in Cincinnati.

I’m not trying to claim some kind of status as a freedom city girl, or anything. It’s just that I’m from “Northern Kentucky,” not “Actual Kentucky.” Some people who live in Actual Kentucky think Northern Kentucky is basically a suburb of Cincinnati. We don’t have accents, so we don’t qualify as Kentuckians.

Cincinnatians don’t want to claim us either. We’re from south of the Ohio River. We’re hillbillies!

I don’t blame them. Here is the water tower in my home suburb of Cincinnati. It is so stupid.

Image from Wikimedia


Recently, a study was done by Imagine Freedom, about the prevalence of human trafficking in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. I know that human trafficking can happen anywhere. But it’s particularly eye-opening when it happens in a city that’s host to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

And I was surprised when the study found that Northern Kentucky—stupid water tower and all—was mentioned more than four times as often as any other local area on a website known for enabling sex trafficking.

Granted, the study itself was kind of limited. It was basically a report on Cincinnati’s backpage.com. Backpage allows escorts to advertise their services online, and unfortunately pimps take advantage of this outlet to sell women and girls (and some men and boys) against their will.

How can you tell which ads are for sex workers, there of their own free will, and which are victims of human trafficking? You can’t, really. Some law enforcement and researchers say that when a lot of the ads blur out women’s faces or only show their bodies, that’s a sign that there could be a lot of trafficking victims being pimped out.

However, I used to be a personal assistant for a sex worker, and she always blurred or cropped out her own face in her ads. She wasn’t a victim.

So it’s really hard to tell.

In the report, Kentucky locations were mentioned 336 times on backpage.com. Ohio (and Indiana) locations were mentioned 226 times. The biggest day for running ads was Sunday.


Another report, done by the Freedom Center, also found that Sunday was the biggest day for sex trafficking. Apparently, Cincinnati is different from other places in this regard. It’s a really strong Catholic area, so I guess while most people are at church, others are busy perpetuating modern day slavery.

The Freedom Center’s report is a little more comprehensive than Imagine Freedom’s. However, the Freedom Center was more interested in learning about people’s perceptions of trafficking, and how well-equipped they are to recognize and handle the situation, than in identifying actual cases of it.


But we know it’s happening in the area. One case of labor trafficking came to light in 2013, when the D’Souza family began talking to local news sources about how they had been trafficked from India, and had eventually escaped the situation.

Back in India, they felt they could trust the person who promised them good work in the United States.

‘”We were promised a good life, a big house, a nice job, and good opportunities for my children. When we came here, we didn’t get any of that,” said Dancy [D’Souza].’

Instead, Mr. and Mrs. D’Souza found themselves working 15 or more hours a day in a restaurant in Blue Ash, Ohio (another suburb of Cincinnati). Most of their paychecks were withheld because the restaurant owner claimed they had incurred debts while traveling to the US, and needed to pay them off. (That’s a classic case of debt bondage, right there.) They had two children, Bradly and Rohan, who slept on the floor of their one-bedroom apartment.

‘They were in a one bedroom apartment the restaurant owner was paying for. In a letter from the FBI, the D’Souza’s say they were threatened by the restaurant owner that they’d be turned over to immigration officials.’

The restaurant owner even tried to have Mr. D’Souza killed. Fortunately (uhh?) he fired his gun at the wrong person by mistake, and Mr. D’Souza got away with his life. (I’m assuming the other guy who was fired at survived. The reports I read didn’t say, “The restaurant owner killed someone else by mistake while trying to kill D’Souza.”)

Now the D’Souzas are free. Mr. D’Souza works at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and their son Bradly is attending the University of Cincinnati. They all work with local organizations to raise awareness and put an end to human trafficking.


If it can happen in my hometown with the stupid water tower, in a city with a famous Underground Railroad museum and education center, where my sisters are raising my nieces and nephews, it can happen anywhere. It IS happening anywhere. Google the name of your town and “human trafficking.” See what you come up with.


L. Marrick is an author, ghostwriter, and suitcase entrepreneur—which is a hipster way of saying she travels and works from her laptop. Her memoir, “Working Girl: 132 Somewhat Moral Values I Learned from a Sex Worker,” tells about when she answered a shady classified ad and wound up working as a sex worker’s personal assistant. Her professional website, Copy&Sundry, is where she connects with ghostwriting and blogging clients.

© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.

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