The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC) bolstered efforts to combat human trafficking in the Buckeye State last Friday after announcing the creation of a task force aimed toward fighting trafficking in the Mahoning Valley.
The OOCIC task force will target human traffickers in the area in an attempt to increase the amount of human trafficking investigations and arrests, according to an announcement from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Mahoning Valley Sheriff Jerry Greene. The creation of the task force will make it easier for law enforcement to cooperate in one another’s jurisdictions and aims to deter the demand for sexual services.
The task force has already made progress, arresting five “johns” (solicitors of prostitution) in its first week. The most recent data available reported 102 human trafficking investigations in Ohio in 2015. Across the nation, between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked every year.
The OOCIC intends to raise awareness of trafficking throughout the state and pour additional resources into improving outreach programs and resources for victims.
Human trafficking often involves transporting victims across national borders and over state lines, usually for prostitution services. In the United States alone, an estimated 200,000 children a year are at risk of being trafficked into the sex industry, with another 100,000 believed to already be involved in the sex trade.
Ohio House Bill 262 is one of the pre-existing measures fighting human trafficking in Ohio that helped impact sentencing related to trafficking.
“(The bill) had a strong penalty that was put in for offenders who were traffickers,” said Elizabeth Ranade Janis, anti-trafficking coordinator at the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “If you traffick someone in the state of Ohio, it’s a first degree felony — a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.”
Sixty-three of Ohio’s 88 counties are included in the human trafficking coalitions that fight the crime, but it is difficult to compare data across the state, according to Janis.
Making use of data can also be a challenge, particularly when available statistics may not tell the full story. The city of Toledo has been identified by the FBI as one of the top recruiting centers for underage prostitution in the U.S., but this may not highlight Toledo’s vulnerability to trafficking so much as it does the drought of data available elsewhere.
“The FBI innocence lost task force only looks at states and arrest data in cities in which the FBI was operating.” Janis mentioned. Thus, relatively high rates of arrest for trafficking in cities such as Toledo or Columbus are more indicative of an actual police presence than a lack thereof.
While the creation of the Mahoning Valley task force is a welcome step in combating trafficking, a great deal of effort continues to rely on public awareness and action. So far, some meaningful progress has been made.
“I’m really encouraged by what I see,” said Janis. “We have a great partner in the attorney general’s office. Across the state, a lot of people have been working hard to raise awareness for a long time.”
Challenges in raising public awareness continue, but Janis says the first step in combating human trafficking is having a wide outreach campaign.
“We have a lot of law enforcement officers engaged in raising awareness.” said Janis. “The goal and the ideal of having these task forces is they support a collaborative effort that’s usually cross-county, and it really helps strengthen the overall response (to trafficking). It’s a key partner and a leader in the state on the issue.”
Anyone who wants to report a suspected instance of trafficking or learn more about human trafficking can call the National Human Trafficking Center at 1(888) 373-7888.