COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined federal, state and local law enforcement partners to announce the success of a statewide anti-human trafficking operation.
Operation Autumn Hope, coordinated through AG Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, encompassed more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners to break the cycle that fuels sex trafficking across the state. The broad-based effort, carried out in various parts of the state simultaneously, identified four priorities:
• Rescuing victims of human trafficking and referring them to social services
• Recovering missing and exploited children
• Apprehending those seeking to have sex with a minor
• Arresting male johns seeking to buy sex
“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
During the operation, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Trask Force, Columbus PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force rescued 109 human trafficking victims and referred them to social services.
“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”
Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Center, whose agency was part of the social services network prepared to aid the rescued victims, said: “Survivors of rape and sex trafficking deserve to be believed and have access to justice. By holding offenders accountable and reducing demand for human trafficking, this operation prevented many others from being harmed.”
Across southern Ohio, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, including 45 by physical recovery by the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Among those missing included a 15-year-old girl missing from Cleveland whose recovery linked her and other possible victims to an individual in Columbus suspected of human trafficking; a 15-year-old male with two warrants who is a suspect in multiple shootings and a homicide; and a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing by the Lancaster Police Department who was recovered in Columbus within six hours of being reported missing.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin Count Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force apprehended 22 individuals seeking to have sex with a minor. Those arrested and charged with felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges include a pastor, students, and a rehabilitation resident advisor.
“These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community,” said Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin. “Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children.”
In Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties, 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes – a component of Operation Autumn Hope focused on reducing the demand for sex. Those arrested were charged with soliciting and other charges included a fireman, an attorney and a motivational speaker.
“The Dublin Police Department recognizes the importance of collaborating with local, state and federal agencies in order to rid our communities of this painful exploitation of our fellow citizens,” Dublin Chief of Police Justin Páez said. “Through operations and efforts like this, we can hold people accountable as well as bring justice and support to victims of human trafficking.”
The agencies and entities that participated in Operation Autumn Hope were the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, U.S. Marshal’s Service, FBI, Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Columbus Division of Police P.A.C.T. Unit, Columbus Division of Police Missing Persons Unit, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office HOPE Task Force and ICAC Task Force, Columbus City Attorney’s Office, Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, Dublin Police Department, Powell Police Department, Grove City Police Department, Gahanna Police Department, Upper Arlington Police Department, Westerville Police Department, Grandview Heights Police Department, New Albany Police Department, Southeast Mental Health Addiction Services, Columbus Public Health, The Sanctuary Collective, CATCH Court, Out of Darkness, RREACT Team, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, Mahoning Count Prosecutor’s Office, Canfield Fair Police Department, Youngstown Police Department, Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children, Austintown Police District, Cortland Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Ohio Investigative Unit, Adult Parole Authority, the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, Independence Police Department, Westlake Police Department, Beachwood Police Department, Orange Police Department, Middleburg Heights Police Department, Cuyahoga Department of Children and Family Services, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, and the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.