State Reps. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) today provided sponsor testimony on House Bill (HB) 461, the Protect Trafficked Minors Act, which would mirror Ohio law with federal law in cases involving the human trafficking of minors aged 16 and 17-years-old.
“The Protect Trafficked Minors Act provides prosecutors every tool to protect our children and prosecute offenders to the highest degree,” said Rep. Fedor. “Federal prosecutors have the tools but not the resources. This will give Ohio, which has the resources but not the legislative tools, the ability to protect all minors and prosecute anyone who traffics them.”
Between 2016 and 2017, Shared Hope International, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on ending human trafficking, downgraded Ohio’s rating on how well it prevents, protects and prosecutes human trafficking. The change in grade is largely attributed to the lack of protective provisions for child victims in the Buckeye State.
HB 461 would increase the penalties for people who traffic 16 and 17-year-olds, removing the incentive that currently exists for trafficking these minors. Additionally, HB 461 will prevent minors who are survivors of human trafficking from being revictimized by the criminal justice system by requiring a juvenile court to appoint a guardian ad litem for a child if the court has reason to believe that the crime charged is prostitution or human trafficking-related.
“One human trafficking case in Ohio is too many,” said Rep. Galonski.
During the testimony, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) asked Rep. Fedor and Rep. Galonski if this bill would impact the age of consent for Ohio which, he pointed out is 16. Rep. Fedor responded, “That question is irrelevant,” and went on to explain that “no child consents to be raped, sold to be raped for a penny.” Consent, the two Democratic lawmakers pointed out, has nothing to do with human trafficking, because no one consents to trafficking.
Representatives Fedor and Galonski recently hosted the ninth annual Human Trafficking Awareness (HTA) Day to bring attention to this form of modern-day slavery. The Protect Trafficked Minors Act has grown out of nearly a decade of work by Rep. Fedor, as well as from the suggestions and needs presented at HTA Day.
Overall, the bill has received widespread bipartisan support. A second hearing date has yet to be announced.