CLEVELAND — Kirsti Mouncey is the CEO of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. She said a sculpture in Public Square depicting survivors of human trafficking speaks to the work she does with survivors.
“Seeing this, its really bringing it to life, right," Mouncey said. "It’s human stories. It’s people that it happens to."
She said the sculpture speaks to her, since her organization helps survivors reintegrate into a free life. She said sometimes that process can take years before they’ve transitioned out of the trafficking life.
“Once someone is in that life, it’s very difficult to come out," Mouncey said.
The scripture is called “Let the Oppressed Go Free,” and artist Timothy Schmalz is behind it. He said it’s based off of actual faces of survivors.
“Talking about going down a dark hole, that was it,"Schmalz said. "I remember saying to my wife this one time. Don’t look up human trafficking on the internet. It will just get you really depressed about humanity in general.”
But Schmalz said he wanted to lay it bare, in order to provoke thought about the issue.
“No one wants to look at it, therefore no one deals with it, therefore the problem festers in our culture," he said. "Hence, more reason for a 20-foot sculpture bringing them out into the daylight.”
There are QR codes on signs near the sculpture, where people can learn more about the issue. The Community West Foundation worked with the collaborative to get this in Cleveland.
“It was important for us to be in a place in the heart of our city, where a lot of people see it, where a lot of people are asking, 'what is this?'” Mouncey said.
It’s in Public Square, which is an area with plenty of foot traffic. Margaret Robenalt and Charlie Murawski heard about the statue on the radio and had to stop by to learn more.
“Adults, kids, every age range, every nationality," Robenalt said. "The pervasiveness of this is really speaking to this, I would say.”
The statue came to town just days before the Ohio Attorney General’s office announced 160 arrests in a human trafficking sting called Operation Buyer's Remorse.
Mouncey said this speaks to how serious the issue is in Ohio, which ranks fifth in human trafficking incidents in the country as of June 2022, according to humantraffickingcourts.org.
“We need to pay attention to this," Mouncey said. "It’s right under our noses, not only the crime itself but the awareness and the education.”
Shmalz said the statue will be in Cleveland for six months. Then it will go on a tour in different cities around the country before its final destination in Washington, D.C.