Ohio fights human trafficking, but much more work remains
The sentencing of a Cleveland man earlier this week on human trafficking charges sheds light on an underreported and insidious crime that targets vulnerable young people and leads them into lives of prostitution, slavery and victimization.
Thirty-five-year-old Bennie Veasey of Cleveland was sentenced Monday in Baltimore to 20 years in prison for luring a 19-year-old Ohio woman into the sex-slave trade in and outside of Ohio.
Sadly, Veasey’s case represents the exception, not the rule, in swift apprehension and tough punishment for human traffickers. State and federal law enforcers agree that it remains one of the nation’s mostly underreported crimes. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, only about 47,000 victims were brought to light in the last year, compared with up to 27 million people living in such slavery.
Closer to home, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine reports that “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.”
Human trafficking is the trade across city, state and national boundaries in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor. On the global level, the illicit industry brings in an estimated $32 billion annually in international trade, according to the Polaris Project, the leading U.S.-based organization fighting human trafficking.
IN OHIO AND MAHONING VALLEY
Fortunately for Ohioans, the Buckeye State has worked proactively toward promoting awareness and in adopting taut statutes to prosecute traffickers while helping to restore a semblance of normalcy to the lives of trafficking victims. In the past year, Ohio legislators approved the Safe Harbor Law, which increases penalties for traffickers and improves care and rehabilitation for victims. In addition. Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order instructing state agencies to coordinate services and treatment for trafficking victims.
In the Mahoning Valley, the Northeast Ohio Coalition on Rescue and Restore has formed to raise awareness in Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula and Columbiana counties of the scope and destructive nature of the perfidious crime. Just this week, dozens in the community attended a public forum in Boardman at which leaders of NEOCCR shed disturbing light on the topic often cloaked in darkness. Jean Waris, a co-director of NEOCRR, said human trafficking in the Mahoning Valley and Ohio largely operates underground and off the radar screens of the public and of the criminal justice system.
Today, a forum at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman also is expanding awareness of human trafficking to Help Hotline Crisis Center volunteers and other social welfare representatives. Such awareness serves as the first viable step toward fighting the vexing scourge.
Much more work, however, remains undone. Too often, the lines between prostitution and human trafficking are blurred. The state’s task force on the crime reports that many cases of human trafficking are incorrectly being prosecuted as cases of prostitution or of promoting prostitution.
As the Ohio Commission on Human Trafficking reports, viewing victims of human trafficking as victims in need of services rather than as prostitutes deserving of jail time represents a major paradigm shift for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and the public.
Ohio thankfully has taken an aggressive role in powering that shift in mindset.