Awareness, education key in identifying human trafficking

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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Dr. Celia Williamson is the executive director of of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo.

Her work, and that of her colleagues, is focused heavily on education, awareness and response to what is a global, national and local issue.

"It really is a community-wide issue," Dr. Williamson said. "It's important for us here in Toledo because we know that we have human trafficking here on U.S. soil. We know that it's in Toledo, Ohio."

Currently, local authorities are taking a closer look at a recent abduction case. It happened on the Ohio Turnpike near Swanton, during a routine traffic stop.

"There was that feeling that something wasn't right," Sgt. Ivan Nunez, Ohio State Highway Patrol, said.

The driver, Juan Carlos Morales-Pedraza, 35, didn't have an ID, he was driving a car in someone else's name and his passenger was a 15-year-old reported missing out of New Jersey.

"It wasn't until later that we were able to determine that she did fear the safety of her family and herself," Sgt. Nunez said.

According to troopers, there are also reports that he sexually assaulted the teen. Now, he's in jail on $250,000 bond.

"The main this is that she is safe now," Lt. Scott Wyckhouse, Ohio State Highway Patrol, said.

Williamson applauds the troopers for recognizing all the possibilities in this case. She says 10 years ago, trafficking would have been an after-thought.

"Knowing to assess that, identify and look for that, is amazing," she said. "It will be so helpful in [the victim's] ability to see justice."

In the meantime, Morales-Pedraza remains in jail. Authorities are also investigating whether he is in the country legally and add that more charges would be filed.