Child sex trade study shines light on Ohio

Nearly 1,100 American-born youths in Ohio, or about one in every three runaways who have been gone for more than two weeks, are forced into the sex trade each year, according to a new study released Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Another 783 foreign-born people have been forced into labor or sex trafficking in Ohio, according to the first-of-its-kind study.

“There are victims now in modern day slavery,” said Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo professor and lead author . She said the estimates are conservative.

In additon to the 1,078 children estimated to be forced into the sex trade, another 2,879 American-born children ages 12 to 17 are at-risk for sex trafficking and 2,534 foreign-born people are at risk of forced labor or sex trafficking, according to a 69-page study by the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission.

“This is clear evidence that we need to do more, much more, to protect our youth in Ohio,” said Attorney General Richard Cordray, chairman of the commission.

Contributing factors include untrained first responders, the lack of a stand-alone law addressing trafficking and the state’s high numbers of vulnerable youth, the study said.

“The people who are likely to encounter trafficking aren’t likely to recognize it. It is very analogous to domestic violence 30 years ago,” said Mark Ensalaco, a professor in the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Studies Department.

The criminal justice system mistakenly treats teens as prostitutes who should be arrested and punished rather than as victims, the study said. Additionally, customers in the sex trade remain protected, rarely facing prosecution in Ohio.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, who serves on the commission, said she plans to introduce a bill this month that will mirror federal law prohibiting human trafficking. A year ago, lawmakers added stiffer penalties for crimes associated with trafficking but did not pass a stand-alone statute like those in 42 other states.

“State laws do play a role in the decision-making of human trafficking organizations that are sophisticated and networked,” the report said. “Those more sophisticated trafficking rings are aware of the laws and potential risk of doing business in a particular U.S. state.”

Toledo ranks fourth behind Miami, Portland and Las Vegas among U.S. cities in terms of arrests, investigations and rescues of minor sex trafficking victims.

Dayton Police Chief Richard

Biehl said there has been no direct evidence of human trafficking in the city in recent years. But, he said, it would be naive to believe it is not happening here.s

“If it’s that close, to say it doesn’t exist here would be blind,” he said. “We lack good data or intelligence to the degree to which it exists.”



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