If you've gotten a mani-pedi or an eyebrow threading in Ohio recently, you may have been served by a modern-day slave. Federal agents and the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology have launched a investigation into what they think is a state-wide human trafficking scheme involving fraudulent cosmetology licenses and potentially thousands of immigrants forced into indentured servitude. The Ohio Board of Cosmetology has uncovered thousands of fraudulent licenses within their system, many of which are for women who work at nail salons across Ohio. They're concerned that these fake licenses are being used to traffic women from Southeast Asia to the U.S. to work in nail salons. In Ohio (like in many other parts of the country), nail salons are often staffed by Asian immigrants. Not all of these immigrants, however, are living the American dream. Many of them are living in situations of debt bondage — sometimes working for years without wages to pay back their transport fee to the U.S. Some have their passports held to prevent them from leaving the U.S. and keep them scared of the authorities.
In Ohio, investigators have already found at least 16 women living at the same address, all with fraudulent licenses. But they are concerned that's just the French tip, so to speak. Kevin L. Miller, the executive director of the Ohio Board of Cosmetology, says he expects the next two months to be full of indictments and arrests across the state as police begin to uncover what they suspect will be a criminal ring based on human trafficking, identify theft, fraud, and even potential national security threats.
This is certainly not the first time human trafficking victims have been forced to work at nail salons. Earlier this year, a group of Chinese women filed a lawsuit against the owners of the nail salon where they were made to work long days for pennies while handling dangerous chemicals. And just last month a Long Island nail salon was shut down for being a front for a brothel full of trafficked women. But if the current suspicions in Ohio pan out, this nail salon scheme could be one of the largest human trafficking operations ever, yielding thousands of victims.
If you visit a nail salon regularly, take a few moments to talk to the workers there. Ask friendly questions about their lives (not whether or not they're trafficked) and just get to know them a little. Sometimes, language barriers may make real relationships tough, but you can be on the lookout for obvious red flags of trafficking. If any of the workers look frightened or mistreated, if they seem to be working incredibly long hours, or if any of them look way too young, call the local authorities and report your suspicions.
And if you live in Ohio, maybe it's not a bad idea to do your nails at home for the next couple months.