The children of the state of Ohio need our help and by participating in the modern-day abolition movement, each of us can do our part to end human trafficking. Generally, human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable in society, they exploit them, and they keep any profits from the forced sexual conduct or labor. Human trafficking is today’s form of slavery, and globally more slaves exist today than during any other time in history. American soil is tainted with this worldwide trafficking network, and our youth are being sexually exploited every day.
Cases of human trafficking have been reported all across Ohio – from forced labor at massage parlors, to parents selling their children for drugs, to highly-organized gang operations that recruit and move underage girls from one location to another selling them for sex. Human trafficking affects more than 1,000 Ohio children every year, making it a very real problem. More than 3,000 Ohio children are considered high risk for trafficking, and those targeted, average around 13 years of age.
Right here in our own backyard, Toledo has become a leading spot for today’s slave trade, in large part because of its proximity to the state and Canadian boarders, as well as easy access to major highway systems. Toledo ranks fourth in the nation for trafficking based on arrest and rescue statistics, and when adjusted for population we rank number one. We must protect the victims of these heinous acts of human slavery and stop the individuals that reap the benefits of this underground criminal network.
The Ohio House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 262, sponsored by Representative Fedor (D-Toledo), which aims to help minor victims of human trafficking. A triumphant moment for the victims of human trafficking, HB 262 passed with a unanimous vote in the House. This legislation revises Ohio’s laws to fully consider all the circumstances involved in this modern-day slave trade.
Under current law, juvenile victims of human trafficking are arrested as prostitutes and incarcerated. The bill aims to change this scenario into one of hope for the victims rather than punishment. The Safe Harbor Act is premised on the idea that these young men and women are victims, not solicitors of prostitution. Therefore enabling these youth to receive the physical and mental treatment they need to help them recover and re-enter society. Sadly, without intervention, 77 percent of sexually exploited youth simply continue in prostitution as adults.
The passage of HB 262 follows the recent enactment of Senate Bill 235, legislation that makes human trafficking a stand-alone felony in Ohio. This victim-centered legislation follows a three-prong approach of providing prevention, protection, and prosecution. We want to prevent continued trafficking by increasing penalties against buyers of commercial sex. We aim to protect our minors by providing them with services instead of an arrest warrant. And lastly, we will aid in prosecution by creating greater penalties for human traffickers, and providing a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years.
Several other states have already enacted safe harbor legislation. And the federal government included safe harbor provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000). The passage of HB 262 will help to make the penalties in Ohio some of the toughest in the nation, and together we can work to end human trafficking. As HB 262 moves to the Ohio Senate this upcoming week, we urge you to contact your Senate member and express your support for this movement. Join the fight today and end modern- day slavery.
If you suspect a case of human trafficking please call 1-888-373-7888.
State Rep. Teresa Fedor is a Democrat from Toledo.