Five years ago, Jesse Bach went to Havanna, Cuba, on a research trip and witnessed a scene that has haunted him since. "Until you see a 13-year-old girl being sold for sex on the streets with an armed man in an old, beat-up car collecting money, it just doesn't seem real." Today, the 32-year-old Bach is a high school teacher at Parma City Schools and founder and executive director of the the Imagine Foundation, a Cleveland-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aims to raise awareness about slavery and human trafficking, not only in other parts of the world but also America's own sex, manufacturing and service industries. Bach, who hosts an annual Yoga for Freedom trip to Nepal, is currently working on a documentary about human trafficking titled The Abolitionists Handbook and finishing a study that focuses on the city of Cleveland.
Q. What specifically are you studying in Cleveland?
A. We are currently studying the potential for human trafficking to occur within online commercial sex advertisements in Northeast Ohio. Nine volunteers are collecting data based on a predetermined set of questions, and we are linking area codes with [various advertisements]. From there, we are correlating faces to begin a data picture of the commercial sex industry throughout Northeast Ohio. The studies will be brought to City Hall and released to the public at the end of July.
Q. What are some of the most surprising findings from your research here?
A. What has been most shocking is the number of missing youth in Northeast Ohio. We hear about them every now and again on the news, and admittedly we can't state that they have been trafficked, but where have they gone? Are they alive? Do they need our help?
Q. What are your hopes for The Abolitionist's Handbook?
A. The documentary is being filmed and produced entirely by a small group of Northeast Ohioans. ... It offers Clevelanders solutions for how to begin this movement to end slavery and trafficking, from looking at how our clothes are made to how the diamond for an engagement ring has been mined.