Flanked by student advocates, legal experts, law enforcement and survivors, state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today announced plans to modernize Ohio’s laws to treat all survivors of human trafficking under the age of 18 as victims – not criminals.
“Too often in Ohio, young women and men who are forced and manipulated into the illicit sex trade are arrested and charged for prostitution – when in fact they are the victims,” said Fedor. “Instead of making it harder for victims of human trafficking to get the help they need when they need it, we can modernize outdated laws to put children first – ahead of abusers and criminals.”
The Toledo lawmaker asked the roughly two dozen high school students alongside her – who had traveled to the Statehouse today to take part in the first ever Ohio Youth Trafficking Prevention Summit – to take an active, leading role in the effort to modernize Ohio’s outdated prostitution and solicitation laws.
The Safe Harbor Act, passed in 2012, helped create a safe haven for the victims of human trafficking in part by establishing greater penalties against those that profit and engage in human trafficking. The landmark law also shifted the state for the first time to an approach that treats survivors like victims – not criminals.
However, Ohio still views 16 and 17-year-old victims as criminals under its prostitution and solicitation laws. Rep. Fedor plans to soon introduce legislation to extend Safe Harbor protections to all human trafficking victims under the age 18.
“Children who are exploited are not prostitutes – they are victims,” said Maureen Guirguis, co-director of the Case Western Reserve University Law School Human Trafficking Clinic. “Men who pay for sex with sixteen and seventeen-year-olds are effectively buying rape.”
According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Information Crime Reports, Ohio has ranked as high as fifth among all states in total reported human trafficking cases. Just this week, the nonprofit Polaris Project released a report which found that 375 human trafficking cases from Ohio were reported to a national hotline last year – a 23 percent increase over the year before.
“As a community, we must address the neglect, abuse, violence and drug and mental health issues that leave our children vulnerable to human trafficking,” said Lucas County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Denise Cubbon.
Fedor also noted that the Ohio attorney general’s office recently announced they will begin analyzing a missing-child database for red flags that indicate possible incidents of human trafficking.
“By modernizing our laws and using every tool at our disposal, I am confident that we can end human trafficking in Ohio,” said Fedor.
For the past ten years, Rep. Fedor has been a leading advocate in the fight to end human trafficking. Most recently, Rep. Fedor passed legislation to address the demand-side of the illegal sex trafficking trade, End Demand Act, Sub. H.B. 130. In 2012, the General Assembly passed Rep. Fedor’s Safe Harbor Act— a victim centered bill aimed at providing protection, prosecution and prevention. And, while in the Senate, Fedor passed Ohio’s first bill to define human trafficking and make it illegal, Senate Bill 235.