Human trafficking: The modern day holocaust

Ohio is one of the main crossroads for human trafficking from Michigan to Miami

Human trafficking, a modern day holocaust. This is what those attending the annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day heard at the Ohio Statehouse in January. For the sixth year, Ohio Representative Teresa Fedor gathered politicians, service providers, interested people and survivors of human trafficking for a daylong seminar on the status of human trafficking in the state of Ohio.

Human trafficking was not recognized as a problem in Ohio until 2005, when 151 women and children in the Toledo area were rescued in a sting operation. It may be surprising to some that Ohio is one of the main crossroads for human trafficking from Michigan to Miami. Recently a raid was conducted in northeast Columbus in which 18 Asian women were rescued from human trafficking in massage parlors. These victims were identified and rescued because someone in the community had been trained in the signs of human trafficking, recognized the potential trafficking and reported it to the proper authorities.

Ohio is one of the main crossroads for human trafficking from Michigan to Miami

It is estimated that there are 32-39 billion victims of human trafficking in the world; over 10 million of them are in the United States. There are two kinds of human trafficking; sex trafficking targeting women, girls and young boys; and labor trafficking. Work is being done in the area of sex trafficking but very little is currently being done in the area of labor trafficking.

The average age of victims of sex trafficking is 13 years old, a time when girls are exceptionally susceptible to the lure of the predators. Not all girls and women who become victims of sex trafficking are from poor or minority families. Many of these girls are from prominent, upstanding families and fall prey to traffickers because because they feel they are not loved or have become trapped in the cycle of domestic or drug abuse. Almost 62% of the children (both girls and boys) in the foster care system are at risk of being trafficked, whether by the foster parents or as runaways from foster homes. In the state of Ohio, currently 1,678 children have been rescued from human trafficking and approximately 3,000 are at risk of being trafficked.

Sadly, Ohio ranks tenth in the nation for human trafficking. The purpose of the the annual seminar is to make people aware of some of the signs of trafficking and what can be done if trafficking is suspected. The human side of trafficking was presented by a panel of eight survivors that told their stories of being trafficked, rescue and recovery. Their motto has become ‘From Victim, to Survivor, to Thriver’.

In response to the problem of human trafficking, and through the unflagging efforts of Representative Fedor, the Ohio General Assembly has passed legislation to benefit those who have been trafficked. Trafficked victims are no longer treated as criminals but victims. The Safe Harbor Act has created procedures and social support systems to give teen-aged victims a chance to get out of the trafficked business.

Ohio ranks tenth in the nation for human trafficking

It also has increased the penalties for those who traffic in underage prostitution. The End Demand Act intensified the penalties for those participating in human sex trafficking, changing the trafficking from a misdemeanor to a felony when trafficking minors.

Through the efforts of Representative Joyce Beatty and Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, House Bill 246 and Senate Bill 178 have been introduced at the current session to decriminalize victims of human trafficking. The Child Human Trafficking Data Collection process has established a national database to track human traffickers and to assist law enforcement personnel in the rescue of victims and prosecution of the perpetrators. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 protects those undocumented persons in the United States that are trafficked; this is where most of the labor trafficking occurs. The Bringing Missing Children Home Act of 2014 redefines ‘child prostitution’ to ‘child sex trafficking’ and thus lets law enforcement treat the victims as victims, rather than criminals. It also requires coordination between law enforcement and social services agencies to facilitate the return of runaway children to their homes (there are currently 18,000 runaway children in Ohio). Also in 2000, legislation was enacted to restrict issuance of contracts to any entity which practices human trafficking, especially international companies.

In 2009, Franklin County Judge Paul Herbert established a CATCH Court (Changing Actions That Change Habits), where victims of trafficking can complete a 24-month program of treatment for substance abuse, depression and other psychological problems and receive job training. Many of these victims are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and some have sustained brain injuries from frequent beatings. For the dozen women who have successfully completed this strenuous program, their criminal records are expunged and they have a new start on life. Since CATCH Court was created, about 45 percent of the women in Herbert’s court who enter the program have not been rearrested. Before, nearly every prostitute released from jail would sooner or later either be back before a judge, or dead. The Franklin County CATCH Court is becoming a model for other states; Cincinnati is currently developing its own CATCH Court.

Education is the key to reducing human trafficking. Currently there are courses being taught at the major Ohio universities to make students aware of the characteristics of human trafficking. The University of Toledo has established the first of its kind Anti-Trafficking and Social Justice Institute to gather data and provide resources for agencies fighting human trafficking.

Ohio’s Attorney General has created the Commission on Human Trafficking, gathering people from all over the state to address issues of education, enforcement and penalties for human traffickers. The governor now has a Human Trafficking Task Force. The Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking, under the auspices of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, is addressing human trafficking at the national and international level, and within supply chain economics.

We have not solved this problem yet. There are far too many victims and potential victims of trafficking. What is required is interdisciplinary cooperation between law enforcement, social services, faith groups and the state and federal legislators. Churches can be instrumental in assisting in the recovery of those rescued from human trafficking. We need advocates willing to talk to their local and state officials and demand that the perpetrators receive stiffer penalties and the victims be treated as victims, not criminals. People need to be trained in the signs of trafficking so that they can report potential trafficking to the correct agencies. Volunteers are needed to assist in the rescue and recovery of those victims of trafficking.

The worldwide kidnapping and sale of human beings for labor and sex is deemed by many to be the greatest human rights struggle of the 21st century

If you wish to know more about human trafficking and what you can do, the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Center (614.285.4357) and End Slavery Cincinnati (513.800.1863) have active programs to train volunteers. The national hotline number is 888.373.7888. To aid in identification of potential trafficking victims, the United Nation’s Human Trafficking Toolkit is available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ orr/resource/rescue-restore-campaign-tool-kits

The worldwide kidnapping and sale of human beings for labor and sex is deemed by many to be the greatest human rights struggle of the 21st century. We have a biblical imperative to take care of ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:31-46). This is your opportunity to become educated and support those victims and potential victims of human trafficking.

Deniray Mueller serves as legislative liaison for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact her at deniray@deniray.com.

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