Ohio lawmakers are increasing efforts to curb human trafficking.
Following the Jan. 10 release of an annual Human Trafficking Report, which showed improvement in prevention of trafficking in Ohio, Attorney General Mike Dewine reconvened the state’s Human Trafficking Commission.
House Bill 262 passed in August 2011, changing how Ohio law treats human trafficking offenders and victims. The bill increased penalties for human trafficking to put them on par with federal penalties, said Melinda Sykes, facilitator of the Human Trafficking Commission.
Ohio elevated human trafficking to a first-degree felony, which carries a minimum of 10 years in prison.
DeWine announced the Central Ohio Trafficking Task Force in August 2012, a law enforcement collaborative made up of officers in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Columbus Police Department.
“We’ve already had two separate indictments under the state law,” Sykes said.
Trisha Smouse, anti-human trafficking program manager at the Salvation Army Central Ohio, said House Bill 262 produced awareness and brought improvements to the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition in Columbus.
“We’ve seen improvements in the identification of victims,” Smouse said. “We have a huge increase in the number of calls we get to our hotline.”
In 2008, the coalition received five phone calls to the hotline; in 2009, it received one to two calls per month; and in 2010, the average rose to five calls per month. In 2012, the coalition received 20-25 calls per month, Smouse said.
A rise in awareness caused a shift in the perception of human trafficking victims.
“Instead of criminals, our community has started to look at them as victims,” Smouse said. “[It caused] a change of perception and definition of those caught in the trade.”
Increased attention to human trafficking started, in part, with representative Teresa Fedor (R-D 47), who sponsored House Bill 262. Human trafficking caught her attention in 2005, Sykes said.
Fedor focused on Operation Precious Cargo in Harrisburg, Pa., which rescued 151 sex-trafficking victims — 78 from Toledo, a city in Fedor’s district.
“This has been on her radar for quite a few years,” Sykes said.
Shared Hope International, an organization that rates states based on human trafficking laws, raised Ohio’s rating for 2012. With the passage of House Bill 262, Ohio increased its ranking to “C”. The organization grades states based on a 102.5 grade scale. Ohio is currently at a 72.5, which is a 12-point increase from 2011. It is one of nine states to receive a “C” rating.
Ohio will now expunge the juvenile record of the victims of human trafficking that are minors once they have completed the judicial process — a great improvement in human trafficking legalities, according to SHI.
A “B” is the highest rating given by SHI and is held by three states — Louisiana, Florida and Georgia.
The Trafficking in Person’s law still requires proof of force, fraud and coercion for minors. This is not a requirement for federal law and, according to SHI, will have to change for Ohio to increase its grade.