WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Five suspected human trafficking victims were found at two Ohio massage parlors, including one in West Chester, the Ohio Attorney General's office announced in a news release Wednesday.
West Chester police contacted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation in July about tips it received on an illegal massage parlor operating in the city.
"The community - they're our eyes and ears," West Chester Police Lt. Dave Tivin said.
Tivin said local businesses tipped police to suspicious activity at Foot Reflexology, a massage parlor in a small office building in the 7300 block of Kingsgate Way.
West Chester police conducted surveillance of the massage parlor. On Dec. 7, they executed a search warrant at the business and a similar massage parlor in Chillicothe, according to the Attorney General's news release.
Tivin said a Mandarin translator was used to communicate with three suspected human trafficking victims inside the West Chester massage parlor.
"I sat in and viewed all the interviews and it was made abundantly clear to them that they have options," Tivin said.
The Attorney General's news release said two suspected human trafficking victims were discovered at the massage parlor in Chillicothe.
The release said victim's advocates were on hand during the search at both locations.
"This isn't just commercial sex," Yost stated in a press release on Wednesday. "It's a victim under the control of another who is forced into sex work. The difference in human trafficking, simply put, is two versus three people: When money transfers to a third party and a victim is forced to engage in any kind of sex work for fear of repercussions, that is human trafficking – and it is illegal."
Tivin said the investigation is ongoing and that no charges have been filed in the case.
"The victims left town," Tivin said. "We've not been in contact with them since our interview."
Investigators face a wide variety of challenges trying to prevent and investigating human trafficking while attempting to help the survivors.
Law enforcement has uncovered human trafficking in communities across the Tri-State, including Blue Ash, Sharonville, Cincinnati and Covington.
The Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force said a 2014-2016 study identified more than 1,000 human trafficking victims in Ohio.
"Many have either experienced homelessness or addiction or grown up in the foster care system or have suffered an abuse," the Salvation Army's Anti-Human Trafficking Program Manager Erin Meyer said. "Traffickers know about those vulnerabilities and unfortunately they exploit them for their own financial gain."
Meyer said a Department of Justice grant provides three years of funding for a Hamilton County Human Trafficking Task Force.
She said the Salvation Army and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will use he grant to prevent and investigate human trafficking, and try to provide services for survivors.
If you have information about human trafficking, the Salvation Army urges you to call their 24 hour hot line - 513-800-1863.