In April 2016, I wrote the following summary for the course “Working for Women and Gender Inequality” at the University of Illinois Springfield, describing a panel on human trafficking in Ohio. While the panel was from 2012, the information discussed below provides a useful summary on the state of sex trafficking in Ohio and some efforts being done to rectify this.
The Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) hosted a panel on Human Trafficking in Ohio in late 2012. Panelists included Judge Paul Herbert from the Franklin County Municipal Court, founder of CATCH court; director of professional and community services for the Salvation Army and founder of the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, Michelle Hannan; Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, whose department includes the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force; and Glenn McEntyre, a reporter for a local news station (WBNS-10TV) and moderator of the panel.
The panel begins with Hannan, who addresses that the girls are trafficked by someone that they believe is their boyfriend; however, she also gives an example of a girl trafficked by a woman that filled a maternal role (14:11). Other books on human and sex trafficking (especially Renting Lacy) underline this time and time again; whether from emotional manipulation, drug addiction, societal pressure, or blackmail/hostage situations, girls that are forced into sex trafficking are not able to leave.
McEntyre then asks DeWine about the situation in Ohio specifically. DeWine gives two brief stories:
- In the first story story, a pimp brought women from Chillicothe (a small town an hour south of Columbus) up to Columbus to “party” (which conjures images of the party Ricco hosts in chapter six of Renting Lacy), but with coercion and drugs turns the women into forced prostitution (5:24).
- The second involved a raid of 10 massage parlors in Warren, Ohio (3 hours northeast of Columbus) that were storefronts for trafficking and prostitution. Many of the victims were shipped from New York, and their passports were being held elsewhere (5:55). This story mirrored chapter 7 from “Sex Trafficking” by Siddharth Kara in which Sunee, a woman at a Thai massage parlor, had been trafficked and forced to remain because of her father’s ailing health.
Human trafficking in Ohio, as it turns out, is the same as human trafficking everywhere else in America – arising from national events, parties, massage parlors, drugs, and coercion, and enveloped in a situation that unfairly punishes the victim and ignores the buyer. But there are a few things that make Central Ohio more vulnerable (25:48):
- large population
- mobile society
- numerous interstate freeways going through Columbus
- national events like the Arnold Classic that become hotspots for traffickers.
- Ohio spends $5.4 million to enforce prostitution laws just in Columbus.
- 72% of these women have experienced sexual and physical abuse in the home.
- According to Hannan, the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition had saved 246 victims from human trafficking in central Ohio.
- 13% of these were for labor (rather than sex).
- 9% of victims were male (12:40).
- The average age of entry into prostitution is approximately 12-14 (24:00); this is a national statistic, but applies in Ohio as well.
- Trafficked women are forced to have sex with 10-40 men per day, usually six days per week (24:35).
- About 90% of sex workers, whether victims of trafficking or not, say they would leave if they could; most are under control of traffickers (24:49).
- Columbus arrests about 1,000 women a year for selling sex.
- In contrast, we arrest about 10 men a year. (27:55)
- Herbert suggests that this is cultural, but also budgetary; you need to have a female police officer lure the men, but also need to have a team of men there to protect her, and such activities are both dangerous and costly (29:22). He also calls on budget increases to account for this.
- Judge Herbert’s foundation CATCH court, an Ohio program that treats these women as victims rather than criminals and gives the girls an “exit strategy,” (10:11), had accepted a little over 100 women into the program at the panel’s date.
- 66% of these women have not committed new offenses since the program.
- 20% of these women have graduated the program.
- 3 of these graduates are in college; many volunteer or give presentations about the issue of sex trafficking (34:50).
Progress, as DeWine and Judge Herbert stress, has been phenomenal – but also slow-going. Judge Herbert has invited many of the executives of the Columbus PD to his court and invited them to change their perspective of these women as victims, not criminals (27:18). He calls for an End Demand Campaign, which he is working with the Salvation Army to establish (38:00). He also asks for mandatory completion of “John School”, and for a closer watch on the casino recently built in Columbus, which has attracted human traffickers in the short time it has been open (28:25).
Hannan stresses the importance of community education about purchasing sex – that the women do not actually want to be there – and fostering respect in our public schools (30:32). DeWine calls for more forums like this panel, and more public discussion about the issue, but also the public’s help to identify and monitor the issue (32:12). The human trafficking situation in Central Ohio is surely grim, but we have many new programs like CATCH court trying to help these victims and persecute our buyers. This has been a great founding legacy in the 2010 decade, and I hope progress will only continue in Central Ohio to increase education, end demand, help victims, and persecute buyers.