Although some 1,000 American- born children are forced into the sex trade in Ohio every year, and about 800 immigrants are sexually exploited and forced into sweatshop-type jobs, many Ohioans still don’t consider human trafficking a major problem in the state.
Fortunately, government officials, led by Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine, remain strongly committed to educating the public about this scourge and to providing safe shelter for runaways.
Earlier this month, the state approved spending a combination of state and federal money to create a 24-hour shelter in Toledo for young runaways. It also agreed to use $500,000-plus during the next two years to help children’s advocacy centers across Ohio learn how to help young victims and their families.
But it isn’t only the executive and legislative branches of state government that are stepping up the fight against human trafficking. A judge in Columbus recently threw out the criminal record of a human trafficking victim, using a provision in a new state law signed last year. The law increases penalties and creates a fund to help victims.
“Victims of human trafficking don’t deserve to be treated as criminals, but deserve our compassion and support so they can retake control of their lives,” Gov. Kasich said, in reaction to the judge’s ruling.
The State Controlling Board has approved spending federal funds to support AmeriCorps members who are working on human trafficking issues.
At the same time, the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers in 26 locations around the state will share $523,000 to respond to the needs of victims and their families.
The centers will use the money for medical screenings, forensic interviews and mental health care, Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services said last week. Money also will go toward training, conducting workshops on human trafficking and identifying community resources.
In this region, the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and the Mahoning Valley Rescue and Restore Coalition have focused on the recruitment of girls into the sex trade, with a point of concern being the past proliferation of recreational massage parlors in Warren.
Attorney General DeWine, who is continuing the work started by former Attorney General Richard Cordray, has a website that lists some of the signs of human trafficking of which the public should be aware. His office has a hot line for victims. People who see signs of human trafficking should call local police or his office.
At the same time, Kasich’s order calls for a coordinated effort to investigate and prosecute human trafficking and to provide the services and treatment necessary for victims to regain control of their lives.
It is no accident that children are most at risk. They cannot defend themselves from adult predators. Many are vulnerable because they come from broken homes and are craving human kindness. Or, they are on drugs and do not have control of their lives.
These children deserve to be protected, which is why the governor, the attorney general and state legislators are to be commended for keeping this issue front and center.