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Human trafficking hits home for Ohioans

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A young woman, lured from Chillicothe to Columbus after being told she would get to spend the evening partying, was kidnapped, raped and forced to work in prostitution for several months.

The owner of a nail salon in the Cleveland suburb of Solon was arrested after it was discovered that he forced several Asian immigrants to obtain fraudulent documents so that they could work as “indentured servants” in the salon, earning little to no money for their services.

Dozens of illegal Eastern European immigrants were smuggled into the country so that they could work as housekeepers at hotels in the Columbus area. Like the immigrants who worked at the Solon nail salon, they did not earn nearly enough money to support themselves.

Human trafficking is not just something that happens in large, sprawling metropolises like New York City or Los Angeles. It’s happening right here in Ohio.

The problem, though largely unheard of by the general public, has only been getting worse over the past several years. When State Rep. Teresa Fedor first heard of these crimes, she decided that something had to be done.

Fedor introduced House Bill 262, also known as the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, in 2011. A longtime leader in the fight against human trafficking, she was motivated to join the cause after hearing about an FBI investigation of a trafficking ring in Harrisburg, PA several years ago.

Out of the 177 people being trafficked in the ring, 77 were from Fedor’s home district of Toledo. One victim was as young as 10 years old.

“I decided that I wanted to do something to stop this,” Fedor said.

Sen. David Goodman and Rep. Kathleen Chandler assisted Fedor in preparing the bill, which would allow for stricter penalties on adults who assist in the prostitution of young children, as well as providing care and services for child survivors.

Their hard work paid off, and in June 2012, Gov. John Kasich signed the Safe Harbor provision into law.

State Rep. Debbie Phillips supported the bill from the beginning, and respects Fedor for all her hard work.

“Rep. Fedor has been working on this issue for years. It has been a long uphill battle,” Phillips said.

The Safe Harbor Act has been a necessity in Ohio for quite some time. Prior to the passage of the act, there was no guaranteed protection for child victims of human trafficking in the state.

“It’s taken some time to accomplish what we have here in Ohio. We started with nothing,” Fedor said. “The recent passage of HB 262 has sent a message that we will have a zero-tolerance policy for trafficking.”

The law, which was effective immediately, seems to be working thus far. Fedor says that there are at least three trafficking cases that are currently being tried in the state.

One of the key components of the new law is that blame is no longer placed on the child victims. Phillips believes that this was a huge step that needed to be taken.

“One of the biggest problems… is that the victims would be arrested and charged with prostitution,” Phillips said. “With the Safe Harbor provision, which I was glad to support, it puts the prostitution focus on the pimps [who exploit the children].”

 

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