Human trafficking remains a local, national, and global issue.
Though the exact number of those being trafficked in the United States currently remains unknown, many experts fear the problem is much worse than what’s reported.
Ohio is not exempt from the human trafficking discussion.
In response, Ohio has taken a proactive approach in combatting human trafficking across the state.
A study conducted by the RAND Corporation on human trafficking in Ohio in 2007, for instance, suggests that Toledo may be a national hubbub for the sex trafficking of juveniles.
Of these children who are sold into sex slavery, the vast majority are females, aged 10-17.
However, human trafficking in Ohio is not relegated solely to the sex trade.
According to information from Abolition Ohio and the Ohio Attorney General’s Report, both sex and labor trafficking have been identified in the state.
Of note, according to statistics from both reports, the number of labor trafficking cases identified increased from 6 to 23 over that two-year period.
Human Trafficking in Ohio
Ohio has become an attractive target for traffickers for a number of reasons. According to Abolition Ohio: The Rescue and Restore Coalition in the Miami Valley, Ohio has become a popular trafficking location for the following reasons:
- Nation’s Highest Number of Truck Stops: These discreet locations have been flagged as a potential human trafficking hotbed because of the high number of transient males, ease of transportation, and access to vehicles capable of transporting human cargo.
- Extensive and Developed Highway System: Highway systems make transporting humans quick and convenient for traffickers. Developed highway systems provide the infrastructure needed to traffic large numbers of human victims discreetly.
- Close Proximity to the Canadian Border: Ohio’s position close to the Canadian border makes it convenient for international human traffickers. Additionally, this makes it easy for traffickers to “escape” across the border if the need arises.
- Close Proximity to Several Major Cities: Ohio’s close proximity to major cities in the area makes it a popular location for human traffickers. Its centralized location makes it a regional hub for human traffickers in the area.
- High Minority and Immigrant Populations: These populations are more at risk of being lured into human trafficking lifestyles because many live in subpar economic and social conditions.
- Vulnerability to Homelessness—The Ohio Board of Motor Vehicles notes that Ohio is ranked 42nd in children’s vulnerability to homelessness—a significant risk factor for child sex trafficking.
Several different estimates for the total number of human trafficking victims in Ohio exist.
2018 statistics from the Human Trafficking Hotline are among the most recent published figures.
Ohio ranks fifth in the nation in the number of cases reported by state to the hotline.
These statistics reflect a total of 443 human trafficking cases reported in 2018, with the vast majority of them (349/34) being forced into sex trafficking.
The data indicates that the most common venues for sex trafficking in Ohio are as follows:
- Residence-Based Commercial Sex: 41
- Illicit Massage/Spa Business: 40
- Hotel/Motel-Based: 27
- Street-Based: 22
- Online Ad, Venue Unknown: 19
Additionally, of these trafficked victims, the overwhelming majority (303/38) were female, with a total of 78 minors and 248 adults.
Furthermore, a recent study by the University of Cincinnati revealed that a total of 1,032 minors were trafficked in Ohio between 2014-2016.
Understanding the state of human trafficking in Ohio requires a look at the finances behind it.
As RAND notes, studies have estimated the national human trafficking industry to be worth as much as $7 billion, with traffickers making as much as $632,000 a year.
This financial appeal has helped lure both traffickers and victims into the industry—and makes it difficult to combat.
It can be difficult to imagine human trafficking occurring in your own community.
However, the data is quite clear: human trafficking happens all across the nation.
Below, consider the scope of human trafficking in these six major cities in Ohio.
Because of its status as a commercial hub, Columbus may have a high rate of human trafficking.
In March of 2018, 27 men were busted for answering fake human trafficking ads set up by police in Ohio.
This can also be seen through the story of Latice Champelle, who was once a victim of human trafficking in Columbus.
Latice was 15 years old when she was immersed in the dark world of sex trafficking.
During that time, she used drugs and was subjected to severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
In 2015, two Cincinnati men were arrested for operating a human trafficking ring in the “police’s back yard.”
As a major commercial hub, Cleveland raises human trafficking concerns. RAND notes in their study that the city’s position as a commercial power may influence its human trafficking levels.
In 2016, a 17-year-old juvenile was found in Cleveland as part of a sex trafficking ring.
Dayton has been identified as a human trafficking hub by many experts.
The city’s close proximity to the I-70-75 corridor has made it a favorite for traffickers who need easy access into and out of the city.
Because of its convenient location, Dayton proves to be a hotbed for sex traffickers in the state.
This was revealed quite clearly in the First Four Week of March 2017 when 27 people were arrested in a human trafficking sting.
Another city identified in the RAND study, Toledo raised red flags as a possible national and regional center for juvenile sex trafficking.
Researchers identified fifteen separate cases of human trafficking in Toledo, with the majority of victims being minors.
Because of its proximity to Canada, Toledo may be a hotspot for human trafficking.
A recent sex trafficking ring that resulted in more than 100 charges in Mahoning County in October of last year may indicate the city has a rather large problem.
Additionally, a recent 2019 bust that resulted in the arrest of eight men proved to be the second large ring busted in less than a year in Youngstown.
Ohio's Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Efforts
The Buckeye State has taken a proactive approach in eliminating human trafficking. These efforts include:
Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation
Ohio Revised Code Section 2905.32 defines Ohio’s legal definition of human trafficking. This definition is provided as:
“(A) No person shall knowingly recruit, lure, entice, isolate, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain … another person knowing that the person will be subjected to involuntary servitude or be compelled to engage in sexual activity …”
Ohio Revised Code 2953.38 adds further penalties for sex traffickers in the state of Ohio.
Even more importantly, however, it decriminalizes prostitution and other sex crimes minors may commit as a consequence of their sex trafficking.
As noted by the Ohio State Bar Association, the full extent of the nature of crimes that can be expunged remains unclear.
For this reason, pending legislation (HB 56, SB 4) now exists to provide further clarification regarding the matter.
Ohio Revised Code 2307.51, passed in 2012, gives victims of human trafficking the right to sue traffickers in civil court.
This can be done regardless if their traffickers have been convicted yet or not.
Creation of an Anti-Trafficking Task Force
Ohio Revised Code 2905.32 created the nation’s first state Human Trafficking Task Force in 2011.
This Task Force has been credited with identifying an increasing number of human trafficking rings and bringing traffickers to justice.
Additionally, the state of Ohio has taken steps to prevent trafficking cases, protect victims, and prosecute those responsible.
In doing so, the Human Trafficking Task Force releases annual data, along with information to raise awareness to the general public.
According to its official site, the Task Force consists of:
- Governor's Office of Health Transformation
- Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
- Ohio Department of Agriculture
- Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services
- Ohio Department of Education
- Ohio Department of Medicaid
- Ohio Department of Youth Services
- Ohio Department of Public Safety
- Ohio Department of Health
- Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities
- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
- Ohio State Cosmetology and Medical Board
Expanded Government Resources and Services
Ohio has also worked to expand services to victims of human trafficking. In doing so, the state has continued and increased funding into the prevention and prosecution of trafficking, as well as in aid to victims.
The state has also benefited from a Rescue & Restore Regional Anti-Trafficking Program, which helped provide increased resources to victims and incentivized local counties to join a statewide coalition against human trafficking.
Much of the important work the state has done to cut down on human trafficking cases comes in the way of police and official training.
For example, the state provides training and technical assistance to those working in the field of human trafficking throughout the state of Ohio.
Funding Human Trafficking Research
In 2018, the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Office of Criminal Justice Services pledged $100,000 in funding to develop a comprehensive human trafficking report conducted by the University of Cincinnati.
This far-reaching report was published in 2019.
The report quantified for the first time the number of child trafficking victims in the state (1032) and noted that up to 4,209 additional people were considered “at risk.”
Launched an Awareness Campaign
In 2014, the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force began a statewide campaign aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking.
This campaign includes partnering with Impact Group of Hudson to create ads, billboards, and other materials to raise awareness.
Additionally, online sources on the Governor’s page, including a video, exist to educate the public.
Stories, Cases and Successful Operations
Sextortion Cases, a Growing Concern: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found and arrested an online predator of an Ohio sextortion victim.
In general, 2018 data from the FBI reflects an estimate of $83 million dollars that victims paid off to someone to avoid exposing information or images online.
More than $265,000 were paid to predators regarding cases involving minors.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Kristen Beggs, who works with the Child Exploitation Task Force, out of the Columbus satellite office, part of the Cincinnati division, has seen victims as young as seven years old.
The FBI ‘Stop Sextortion’ Campaign seeks to raise awareness, specifically targeted children and schools to avoid risky situations online.
Liberty Township Undercover Sting: This operation in March of 2019 led to the arrests of eight alleged traffickers in Youngstown.
The investigation was conducted by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and the Liberty Township Police Department.
FBI Toledo and Lima Police Department: In late 2017, the FBI’s Toledo Office and the Lima Police Department busted a sex trafficking ring that exploited teen girls aged 14 to 16.
Four men were arrested and charged in the bust.
Operation Cross Country: This international sex trafficking bust in October of 2016 led to the arrests of 239 pimps—with one 17-year-old victim being recovered in Ohio.
City of Warren: An undercover operation in the City of Warren led to the arrest of ten human traffickers in 2017.
Members of the Warren Police Department conducted the sting.
Caroline’s Story: Caroline moved to Cincinnati in her twenties, only to be tricked by her boyfriend into sex trafficking for twelve years.
Once she finally escaped, Caroline had to undergo addiction treatment and other forms of therapy.
She would eventually go on to receive her degree and certifications, only to be denied her dream job with the city.
By taking advantage of laws that allowed her to expunge her record while as a trafficking victim, however, she managed to secure her dream job nearly ten years after escaping trafficking.
Organizations, Coalitions, Taskforces and Universities
The state has worked closely with organizations at both the local, state, and even the federal level.
For instance, the Office of Criminal Justice Services in 2017 managed to secure nearly $1 million in federal funding to help improve the lives of children and youths victimized by human trafficking.
What’s more, the state works with the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, SACWIS, and JFS Refugees Services in order to cut down on the occurrence of human trafficking.
Several other organizations and agencies combatting human trafficking exist throughout the state, including:
The Ohio Department of Higher Education: The Ohio Department of Higher Education has played a major role in the Human Trafficking Task Force’s efforts in the past two years.
During this time, this organization has provided funding to the University of Toledo for the development of a Youth Prevention Guide, as well as for the university to evaluate the state’s human trafficking prevention programs.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety: This governmental agency worked to screen 751 youth for any potential indicators of human trafficking during 2017 and 2018.
They found eighteen potential victims.
Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition: Created in Columbus in 2007, the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition is one of the largest organizations providing resources to human trafficking victims.
The agency works to raise awareness of the issue, as well as provide aid to victims.
The Ohio State University: The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law offers a Greif Fellowship in Human Trafficking program.
Under this program, Ohio State’s law graduates gain valuable experience by representing juvenile human trafficking victims in legal cases.