The Ohio Senate is set to vote today on a bill that aims to abolish modern slavery, in Toledo and across the state. This is not a partisan issue. It should not even be a debatable one.
The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), would impose tougher criminal penalties for human trafficking -- both on the felons who sell other people, generally for sex, and on the lowlifes who buy these coerced services. The bill also would do more to help and protect the victims of trafficking, a disproportionate number of whom are young girls.
Gov. John Kasich has lobbied for the bill. The state House approved it unanimously this week. The Senate should do no less.
To its shame, Toledo has ranked first in the nation in the number of arrests and rescues linked to underage sex trafficking, in relation to its population. A special report in The Blade seven years ago brought the issue of local child prostitution to national attention.
But the plague is hardly limited to northwest Ohio; it festers in every corner of the state. Studies project that more than 1,000 native-born girls and boys, and nearly 800 immigrants, are coerced into the sex trade or other forced labor in Ohio every year.
Representative Fedor's bill would divert minor victims of human trafficking from juvenile courts to "safe harbors," where they would get health care, substance-abuse treatment, counseling, and other social services, and shelter that does not re-create their imprisonment.
The measure would increase to 15 years the mandatory prison term for human trafficking, and would raise penalties for traffickers who threaten or intimidate their victims into silence. The assets these criminals forfeit would help pay for services to trafficking victims.
The bill makes it a felony, subject to a prison term, to pay for sex with a minor; that is essential to reducing demand for the rotten fruits of trafficking. The bill takes steps to enhance public awareness of trafficking, and how to report it.
The typical child prostitute in Ohio enters the trade at age 13, and not of his or her own volition. Those who live longer than seven years after that beat the odds. No state that calls itself civilized can remain indifferent to such inhumanity.
This session of the General Assembly has elevated partisanship to an operating principle. But the fight against human trafficking is not susceptible to Columbus' tiresome political games.
Pass the law, senators -- before the next child dies.
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