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Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Ohio

PHOTO: Law enforcement leaders in Ohio, including Attorney General Mike Dewine, are stepping up awareness of human trafficking to help victims and bring perpetrators to justice. Photo credit: Attorney General's Office.
PHOTO: Law enforcement leaders in Ohio, including Attorney General Mike Dewine, are stepping up awareness of human trafficking to help victims and bring perpetrators to justice. Photo credit: Attorney General's Office.
January 13, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's a crime that is often hidden in plain sight, but law enforcement leaders say human trafficking continues to be a major problem in Ohio. This is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and state leaders are renewing their efforts to increase awareness.

Attorney General Mike Dewine said traffickers prey upon some of the most vulnerable in society, including children.

"It can be really anybody who is compelled to do something that they don't want to do, whether that is to work or to have sex. The problem we have is that people do not necessarily recognize what human trafficking is when they see it," Dewine said.

The public's help is needed to stop human trafficking, Dewine added, and he encouraged Ohioans who suspect the crime to notify authorities. Red flags to look for include people who are never left alone, who may exhibit signs of physical abuse or psychological trauma, or who live and work in the same location.

Dewine said the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force has been able to get some related legislation passed in recent years, and their current priority is House Bill 130. It eliminates the need to prove a minor victim was compelled to engage in sexual activity in order for the perpetrator to be prosecuted.

"Let's say you have a 15-year-old victim, and you have a 25-year-old who is charged with compelling her to do this. Under current law, you have to show coercion. Under the new law, if it were passed, you would no longer have to actually prove that," he explained.

Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. Each year an estimated 1,000 children are victims of sexual trafficking. However, Dewine said, it is still an under-reported crime.

"If you look at just the last year, there have been 30 human trafficking investigations that we know of. And unless someone is charged with the crime of human trafficking, under that specific code section, sometimes law enforcement does not report it as human trafficking," he said.

The governor's office is launching a new campaign to draw attention to the issue, both to help victims and to bring those who are responsible to justice. Posters and other materials are being distributed for use in a variety public places across the state.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH