Ahead of First Four in Dayton, group uses soap to promote human trafficking awareness

MIDDLETOWN, OH (FOX19) - With thousands expected to attend the First Four at the University of Dayton, law enforcement officials say the event could draw in human traffickers.

The University of Dayton and Abolition Ohio are teaming up to educate hotel and motel employees how to spot human trafficking ahead of the NCAA tournament next weekend. Abolition Ohio Anti-Human Trafficking Project Coordinator Gabriella Cipriani went to five hotels this week, passing out information and bars of soap with the national human trafficking hotline number on the wrapping.

"We're also giving out hotel soap and this has the human trafficking hotline number on it so we're asking you to put these on your housekeeping carts and put them in the rooms," she said.

Cipriani says victims can peel off the soap wrapper and stick the number in their shoes or pockets and call the number the first chance they get.

"It's not to say this is happening at the hotels that we are going out to but we want the preventative there that if a victim comes in or a missing child comes in then the staff knows how to respond to that," she said.

Cipriani says human trafficking operates like a business and sporting events like the First Four can ramp up profits.

"With the increase in demand, it can also mean an increase in trafficking," she said.

Cipriani and Abolition Ohio volunteer Adie Lewis spent Friday at hotels in Middletown and Lebanon. Lewis says she became interested in the issue six years ago.

"Human trafficking is that issue that once you hear about it and you know it's real, you can't deny it and you feel inspired to do something to combat it," said Lewis.

Both believe the highway access in the region makes the business operation easy to transport victims.

"The intersection of the highways is a place where trafficking is possible to happen," said Lewis.

Traffickers target 12- to 14-year-olds, according to Abolition Ohio.

"Any ethnicity, any race, any religion," said Lewis.

Cipriani says there have been reports of trafficking in all 50 states and all major cities.

"Toledo area is No. 4 for most calls into the national human trafficking hotline," she said.

The First Four is March 13 and March 14 at UD's arena in Dayton. The national hotline number is 888-3737-888.

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