Measure takes aim at sexual slavery
COLUMBUS — In an attempt to combat Ohio’s and especially Toledo’s reputation as a hub for enslavement of people for the sex trade, state lawmakers have sent the governor a long awaited bill to increase criminal penalties for related crimes. Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign the measure into law this week.
While not going as far as victims’ advocates want, the measure sets the stage for what they see as the next step an in depth study to propose changes in state law.
“We were targeted in the nation as being the number one city recruiting underage girls two years in a row by the FBI,’’ said state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), who has tried for more than two years to change Ohio criminal law to better battle human traffickers.
She took up the cause after a Blade investigation highlighting Toledo’s proximity to highways and other Great Lakes cities that has made it a recruitment hub for the underage sex trade.
A federal investigation into a child prostitution ring in Harrisburg, Pa., turned the spotlight on Toledo in 2005. Nine local girls had been sold as sex slaves as part of the ring, and at least 12 of the 31 people charged had ties to Toledo.
The issue also had been championed by the Cincinnati-based National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which presented modern human trafficking as history repeating itself right under Americans’ noses.
There are about 12 million sex slaves worldwide, including an estimated 300,000 U.S. children, the center said.
“This concept is very hard to understand in these modern times,” Ms. Fedor said. “This form of modern-day slavery is not as visible as our experiences in the past.”
Compromise human-trafficking language was slipped into House Bill 280 and sent to the governor’s desk shortly before lawmakers brought its two-year session to a close last month. Unlike Ms. Fedor’s original proposal, the measure would not create a crime of “trafficking in persons” in Ohio.
OHIO’S HUMAN-TRAFFICKING LEGISLATION
• Defines “human trafficking” as the commission of at least two felony offenses as part of a scheme to force a victim into prostitution or pornography.
• Creates a human-trafficking specification that prosecutors can apply to related crimes to automatically increase penalties much the way a gun specification works with violent crimes.
• Elevates the crime of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, normally a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years behind bars, to a first-degree felony, punishable by three to 10 years, when a human-traffi cking specification is attached.
• Mandates prison time for related offenses like kidnapping, compelling or promoting prostitution, illegally using a minor in pornography, and endangering children when a human-trafficking specification is attached.
• Mandates that offenders pay restitution to victims for such things as housing, counseling, and medical and legal assistance.
• “Strongly encourages’’ the attorney general to create a trafficking-in-persons study commission to examine the problem and report back to the governor and legislative leaders with recommendations for changes in Ohio law.