Few insidious crimes against humanity lurk as deeply in the shadows as human trafficking.
The crime, a form of modern-day slavery in which fiendish people profit from the control and exploitation of others, thrives best when public awareness about it and law-enforcement aggressiveness against it also are kept at bay.
Fortunately, in recent years, state and national attention, coupled with much more assertive and concerted police campaigns to fight it, have taken the abominable crime out of the shadows and into the forefront of the public consciousness.
Now comes satisfying news that such heightened anti-trafficking mindsets and actions have reached the Mahoning Valley. Ohio Attorney General Mike De- Wine and Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene last week announced formation of an Ohio Organized Crime Investigation Task Force to work to combat human trafficking in the Mahoning Valley.
Sheriff’s department Maj. Jeff Allen is leading the task force, which includes a wide swath of cooperative and committed members. They include representatives from the county’s prosecutor’s office and Children Services Board, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Adult Parole Authority and the Austintown and Liberty police departments.
“There is an important need for this task force because human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises right now,” Allen said. He added, “ I am pleased with how many area agencies have committed manpower to such an important initiative.”
As an opening salvo to that initiative, the task force announced the arrests last week of five suspects who are scheduled to appear in court today on charges of solicitation for sex. They are Michael Infante, 34, of Lordstown; Pedro Sanchez, 22, of Boardman; Jerry Teter, 58, of Vienna; Eric Totten, 33, of Brookfield; and David Williams, 44, of Youngstown.
Those arrests may well be just the tip of the iceberg, as the task force reports it is investigating leads into other human trafficking cases in the region.
Though it is disturbing, the presence of human trafficking in the Valley is not all that surprising. After all, the Youngstown-Warren metro area can be considered prime breeding grounds for the perfidious crime.
That’s due, in part, to the convenient network of interstate highways that converge here, providing easy access for quick getaways for ringleaders in such criminal enterprises.
In fact, the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center of the U.S. has identified Interstate 80 as the key east-west human-trafficking route. With strategic interchanges in Austintown and Liberty, the task force is fortunate to have the full cooperation of those township police forces.
OHIO’S AGGRESSIVE FIGHT
The enhanced attention to human trafficking locally mirrors statewide and national trends. In Ohio, recently strengthened legislation defines human trafficking as knowingly recruiting, luring, enticing, isolating, harboring, transporting another person knowing that the person will be subjected to involuntary servitude or be compelled to engage in sexual activity.
In Ohio, more than 1,000 children are exploited and forced into the commercial sex trade with an additional 3,000 runaways at risk of being trafficked yearly, the office of Gov. John Kasich reports.
Worldwide, the industry has lured in approximately 21 million victims who support an estimated $32 billion enterprise, according to the Polaris Project, a leading anti-trafficking organization.
Fortunately for Ohioans, the Buckeye State has worked proactively to promote awareness and adopt taut statutes to prosecute traffickers while helping to restore a semblance of normalcy to the lives of trafficking victims.
Ohio legislators approved the Safe Harbor Law, which increases penalties for traffickers and improves care and rehabilitation for victims. In addition. Kasich issued an executive order instructing state agencies to coordinate services and treatment for trafficking victims.
A state task force on human trafficking also has reported numerous strides. They include training and strengthening cooperation among police, courts, children’s welfare, parole, health care and other key agencies committed to the fight.
Still more can and must be done. The new Mahoning Valley task force sends a message that human trafficking will not be tolerated in our community. We wish it success in its goal of reducing the scope of this fiendish crime and in punishing offenders to the maximum extent of the law.