The statistics have been well pub- licized: 1,000 American-born children forced into the sex trade in Ohio every year; more than 3,000 more at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking; 800 immigrants sexually exploited and forced into sweatshop-type jobs; and, most disconcerting, a majority of Ohioans unconvinced that such exploitation is a major problem.
For the past two years, state officials led by Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine have taken action to deal with this scourge on humanity. Laws have been enacted to deal harshly with the traffickers, public policies have been developed to protect the innocent, and safe shelters are being established for runaways.
The governor and attorney general also have realized that educating the public is an important component in the battle against human trafficking.
But, the bitter truth is that most Ohioans don’t view this trade through the same lens as illegal drugs or prostitution. And that’s a situation the Kasich administration is determined to change.
“We may not want to admit it — it’s almost too horrific to imagine — but the fact is that human trafficking is real and is happening across Ohio,” the governor said last week as he launched an aggressive public awareness campaign.
“Over the past two years, we’ve improved our laws to fight trafficking and began getting victims the help they need, but we must do more. This incredible effort to coordinate state agencies and provide resources free to the public to increase awareness takes Ohio to the next level in our effort to bring an end to the modern-day form of slavery.”
The campaign was unveiled by the administration at the Fifth Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day. State Rep. Teresa Fedor, D- Toledo, hosted the event.
The goal of the governor’s initiative is not only to turn the spotlight on the illegal trade and its facilitators but to help victims avail themselves of services and treatment and to regain control of their lives.
To accomplish this, a slew of public entities, including departments and agencies, have agreed to be involved. For instance, the Ohio Turnpike Commission will place posters in 14 service plazas along the Ohio Turnpike and will use the materials on toll plazas when ad space is not being used. The material also will be aired on Turnpike TV.
The interstate and intrastate transportation of children forced into the sex trade and of immigrants who have no support system in this country remains a major problem.
Having motorists on the lookout gives law enforcement thousands of eyes that should prove invaluable. The public-awareness campaign also focuses on government agencies that provide services to children and women.
But the criminal-justice component is key, which is why the legislation making its way through the General Assembly is so important and timely.
The End Demand Act passed the House in June and is now before the Senate. It would increase criminal penalties against those who solicit minors for sex.
But in the end, public awareness of and involvement in the battle against human trafficking are essential.