By Ed Runyan
Four state legislators from the Mahoning Valley stood with members of the Northeast Ohio Coalition on Rescue and Restore on Monday to express their hopes for passage of additional legislation to stop human trafficking in Ohio.
Like earlier legislation already approved in the past few years, House Bill 130 is sponsored by Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo, D-45th, where sex trafficking was found to be especially troubling. A federal 2005 sting found that 77 of 177 females involved in a Harrisburg, Pa., sex ring were from Toledo.
Warren, where eight massage parlors were closed last year after an investigation disclosed evidence of prostitution, has had similar problems, possibly for similar reasons, said state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th.
The news conference took place in front of the former Gemini Health Spa, 2414 Youngstown- Warren Road SE, one of the eight parlors that closed.
Toledo may have been fertile ground for finding victims to traffic because of the highway access and the number of people suffering from economic woes, Letson said, adding that the same conditions exist in the Mahoning Valley.
The same interstate highways and turnpikes that help fuel industry also fuel the sex trade, Letson said.
The bill would make the penalties tougher for trafficking anyone under age 18 and extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting trafficking violations from six years to 20, said Isabel Seavey, a co-director of NEOCOR, a coalition working in Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
The coalition was a spinoff of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative.
The legislation also would allow trafficking victims to testify in criminal cases by way of closed-circuit television instead of in the same room as the trafficker, Letson said.
“This bill is about not revictimizing the victim,” Letson said of provisions of the bill that would protect from prosecution those who have been trafficked.
Letson said he believes the legislation is likely to be approved in the Ohio House this week and become law by the end of the year.
Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, said she recently reported a situation to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation that she observed at a Trumbull County nail salon that might be an example of human trafficking that differs from the sexual kind.
“Human trafficking isn’t just sex trafficking. It’s also labor trafficking,” she said, referring to individuals in restaurants or on farms, sometimes brought to Ohio to work but kept here without hope of ever breaking free of their keepers.