What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the term “human trafficking?” It’s probably a scene from "Taken" with Liam Neeson or some shady brothel in Bangkok. While these are legitimate images to conjure up (Well, "Taken" is questionable.) the horrible crime of human trafficking is much closer to home than you might think. Toledo, Ohio, is actually the fourth largest city in the United States for human trafficking.

Some people might wonder why. Why is a seemingly random city in Ohio such a large part of the human trafficking industry? There are many reasons for this. First of all, Ohio has the most colleges per capita out of any state. Also, I-75, the Interstate that runs from Canada to Florida, goes right through Toledo. This means that truck stops are very common in Ohio and they just happen to be one of the most popular places to find trafficking victims. In addition, Toledo has an airport and it is only a couple of hours from the international airport in Detroit, Michigan. Also, Toledo is only a short drive from Lake Erie, which is another convenient way to transport victims. There are more factors that account for Toledo being a human trafficking hotspot, but these are the most significant factors to consider.

Having become aware of this issue, the students at Bowling Green High School have decided to do something about it. In 2012, Dr. Jo Beth Gonzalez taught a Social Issues Theatre class, in which the students get to vote on a topic to explore, write a skit about, and eventually perform it for their peers. This particular group of students chose to study the topic of human trafficking and I was among these students.

After researching human trafficking for an entire semester, it became clear that this was a much larger problem than we originally thought and that it was not being talked about nearly enough. So, we decided to develop the Human Trafficking Awareness Troupe as a way to continue exploring the issue of human trafficking outside of the semester-long class. Over the next couple of years, we recruited more students to join the troupe and perform in the skit that we created.

Throughout the next two years of my high school career, I participated in Bowling Green High School’s Human Trafficking Awareness Troupe, our main goal being to raise awareness of how prevalent human trafficking is. We did this by performing at several different locations for very diverse audiences. We performed our skit at the International Human Trafficking, Sex Worker, and Prostitution Conference at the University of Toledo for both my junior and senior year. We also performed for groups of all ages throughout Ohio, primarily in northwest Ohio. During my senior year, we also wrote a public service announcement and submitted it to a radio contest. We ended up winning first place, the prize of which was $1,000.

These first two years of the troupe were very successful, but it didn't end there. Even though the entirety of the original cast has graduated, Dr. Gonzalez and her students have continued to perform the skit and fight to end human trafficking. This past year, they focused heavily on performing for middle school students, seeing as the average age for a child to be trafficked is 13. Recently, there has been a monumental advancement for the Human Trafficking Awareness Troupe, they have started working on adapting the 20-minute skit into a full-length play.

Just this past week, on May 31st and June 1st, Dr. Gonzalez flew in a playwright, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, from Texas. They conducted a two-day workshop at Bowling Green High School, in which the Human Trafficking Awareness Troupe participated and any other Drama Club members who were interested. Dr. Gonzalez also invited the past cast members to join, so I attended a section of the workshop on May 31st. Throughout the workshop, the students took part in different exercises, some involving shadow theatre and music, in order to more fully develop the characters and the plot. The troupe expects to perform the play for the first time at the beginning of 2017 and continue to revise it as the school year comes to a close.

Millions of young people, primarily women, are being exploited every single day, making human trafficking a $32 billion-per-year industry. It is an ugly reality that we may not want to face, but it's happening in our backyard and we cannot turn a blind eye to it anymore. The students of Bowling Green High School are among the passionate people who are taking a stand and making a change. I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of this troupe that has been instrumental in raising awareness of human trafficking in the community. Keep up the good work and here’s a special thanks to Dr. Gonzalez and all of the talented students who make up the Human Trafficking Awareness Troupe!

If you want to know more about the issue of human trafficking and how you can help, go to http://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking.