The scourge of human trafficking impacts communities around the world. Billboards found around Cleveland stating “It Happens Here Too” reflect the fact our community is no exception to human trafficking activity. Over 350 trafficking victims have been identified in Greater Cleveland in the past three years alone. The Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) has addressed this issue through people-to-people exchanges that promote awareness around the global impact of human trafficking. Since 2017, CCWA has hosted five international exchanges through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program focused on combating trafficking in persons (TIP) issues.
Renee Jones, President & CEO of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center (RJEC), has dedicated more than 20 years addressing the needs of trafficking survivors. She is one of many local resources CCWA connects with international visitors to address the global dimensions of this issue. “Human trafficking is a global tragedy that must be fought on an international level. RJEC believes through strategic partnerships that work together to develop solutions, we can produce changes globally,” says Renee.
RJEC is a community center on the west side of Cleveland that supports survivors of human trafficking. RJEC works with law enforcement and a cadre of volunteers who provide advocacy, life-skills coaching, and therapy programs for survivors. Inspired by meetings with CCWA visitors doing similar work from countries such as Oman, Ukraine, and Uganda, RJEC launched the Global Initiative in 2020, a professional development center to create long-lasting relationships from the international delegations that goes beyond just a single meeting. “This initiative will build strong strategic partnerships that continue after their visit to make an impact on problem solving and develop ways to empower survivors. I believe this will grow into a very powerful network for global change on TIP,” added Renee.
Through meetings with CCWA-hosted visitors, Renee and the staff of RJEC discuss their work in Cleveland and hear the unique perspectives of the visitors. The Global Initiative will take things a step further to continue sharing information on trends, new programming, and opportunities among NGOs. “I felt we could accomplish more together to address this issue globally if we had this capability. This year RJEC developed the Global Initiative to make this vision a reality.”
Despite current travel restrictions, there are still avenues to engage through exchanges. In January, CCWA virtually hosted an international visitor group addressing TIP issues from six African countries. Thanks to new virtual public diplomacy programs, and the noble efforts of local resources such as Renee Jones, international dialogue is continuing around one of today’s most pressing topics.