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Published: Thursday, 6/28/2012

End this slavery

Ohio has a new law that toughens penalties for human trafficking -- the forced sale of a child or an adult, for sex or cheap labor. Now it is up to law-enforcement officers, public officials, and citizens to make the law work and to eliminate this 21st-century slavery.

The law is the product of seven years of admirable work by state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo). She took an interest in the issue after a federal investigation busted a nationwide sex-trafficking ring that had coerced and victimized 77 women and girls from the Toledo area. One was 10 years old.

A Blade special report in 2006 concluded that Toledo was a recruiting center for child prostitutes. More recently, Toledo has led the nation in arrests and rescues related to sex trafficking of minors as a proportion of population.

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Representative Fedor's measure makes human trafficking a first-degree felony in Ohio. It prevents sex-trafficking victims from being defined automatically as criminals, and enables juvenile victims to obtain treatment and counseling. Victims of all ages can sue the people who exploited them, get other compensation, and seek to clear their records of convictions for prostitution.

The law also increases criminal and civil penalties against pimps and other traffickers, and against the customers of their sordid trades. Trafficking now carries a mandatory prison term of as much as 15 years.

These changes are all essential, but they will require aggressive enforcement and public awareness. A state task force on human trafficking offers several useful proposals along these lines.

The panel properly recommends that businesses that engage in or enable human trafficking should be closed. It proposes more training for employees in a broad range of occupations to identify and report trafficking. It calls for enhanced access for victims to needed help and medical services.

Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara is sponsoring an ordinance that would require sexually oriented businesses in the city to display posters advertising a hot line operated by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. That telephone number, 1-888-373-7888, enables people to report trafficking and tells victims where they can get help. Mr. McNamara's proposal deserves his colleagues' support.

The need remains great. Ms. Fedor says many lawmakers still assert that there is an age of "consent" for victims forced into prostitution. Within the past week, a national crackdown on sex trafficking led to 26 arrests in the Toledo area. Last week, a Wood County grand jury charged a Georgia man with kidnapping a 17-year-old girl and holding her in "involuntary servitude … with a sexual motivation."

Ohio's new human-trafficking law can respond effectively to such outrages. Now it needs to be enforced.



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