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Progress And Challenges In Ohio's Human Trafficking Problem

Experts in the courtroom and on the streets gathered at the Statehouse Thursday to discuss Ohio’s progress in ending human trafficking. In recent years state policymakers have been adjusting the law to create harsher penalties for human traffickers. At the same time—leaders have been trying to find ways to help the victim of human trafficking. The line between a prostitute who is willingly breaking the law and a human trafficking victim who is forced into it is very blurry. Laws like the Safe Harbor Act have been passed in Ohio to—in part—force attorneys and law enforcement to think twice while prosecuting an alleged violator. The laws also reinforce protections for minors. Pete Swartz is a detective in Toledo. He says officers who work in the sex crimes field understand the importance of recognizing when someone is the victim of trafficking. Swartz says the next step is passing that on to detectives in other fields.

What I am seeing is that maybe possibly our other detectives—crimes against person, crimes against property people—don’t really understand the nature of how the pimp has control of this minor and is maybe forcing them steal a box of condoms or steal a case of beer or rob a bank or steal a car or anything of that nature.

Nikki Trautman Baszynski is an assistant state public defender. She says—in order for Safe Harbor to have a good impact—collaboration must happen between judges, defenders and prosecutors.

It’s difficult to make it effective and to make it a reality without collaboration throughout the court.

"In Franklin County," Trautman Baszynski continued, "we were fortunate enough to have a magistrate who really took ownership over the issue—becoming trained himself—talking to others and making sure that he was aware of any red flags and getting people on board.” Aside from the Safe Harbor Act—state lawmakers recently passed the End Demand Act, which continued the crackdown on human trafficking by strengthening penalties against those exploiting victims of human trafficking. In 2009—Franklin County Judge Paul Herbert created the CATCH Court, which is a two-year recovery program for victims. He says something that can be done to further assist victims is to treat their trauma before their drug and alcohol addiction. He says in his program, they’ve seen a decrease in the amount of people who try to run away. “Which as you all know is the number 1 problem with this population is you get them in treatment and then they run immediately—to go get high. But why are they going to get high? They’re going to get high to medicate all these horrible things that have happened to them and they can’t live with these thoughts.” Other panelists suggested that another step in the effort to help is to dig deeper when law enforcement spot kids who have run away in order to find out if they are being victimized in some way. Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide, and the second largest global criminal industry behind the drug trade. The state of Ohio says each year more than 1,000 Ohio children become victims of human trafficking at an average age of 13.