Grant to UC, Cincinnati Union Bethel to aid victims of human trafficking

Maria Espinola, PsyD (center) assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry will partner with Angelik Smith, and Viann Barnett of the Off the Streets program of Cincinnati Union Bethel

Maria Espinola, PsyD (center) assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry will partner with Angelik Smith, and Viann Barnett of the Off the Streets program of Cincinnati Union Bethel

A psychologist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine is partnering with the social service agency Cincinnati Union Bethel 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 at the Administration for Children and Families.

“Ohio has the fourth-highest rate of human trafficking in the country,” said Maria Espinola, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience. “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 because of 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 it has served over 800 victims of human trafficking since 2006.

Viann Barnett, director of CUB, has worked for nine years to help victims reclaim their lives. “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 said.

The grant will help 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 victims.  

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Ohio’s rate of human trafficking 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.

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