COLUMBUS — Taking a break from Ohio’s first Statehouse summit on human trafficking attended by hundreds of high school students, state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) Friday called for a law prohibiting prosecutors from criminally charging trafficking victims between 16 and 17 years old.
“Age of consent, in my mind, has nothing to do with it,” she said. “Children are not consenting to be victims. They’re not consenting to voluntarily be raped. That thought in our society just shocks me.”
The legal age for consenting to sex in Ohio is 16, and Ms. Fedor doesn’t propose changing that. But she will introduce a bill to extend Ohio’s current Safe Harbor law to all victims up to age 18. Current law considers those trafficked in the sex trade under the age of 16 to be victims, not prostitutes.
She was surrounded by students from Toledo and elsewhere across the state as she hosted a conference designed to educate them on how not to become victims themselves. But she also hoped to create an army to lobby lawmakers on trafficking issues.
Quynterra Eskridge, of Cleveland, who just turned 18, has had an education someone her age might not imagine. She said she was gang-raped at the age of 13 and recruited into in the sex trade at 16. She got out when she became pregnant and was directed into a juvenile court Safe Harbor program that provides treatment, counseling, and other services as an alternative to incarceration.
“I met my pimp just from walking around in the middle of the night in winter,” she said. “You can be just walking and you get recruited. ... Be careful.”
In recent years, Ohio has passed laws increasing criminal penalties for both those who coerce or force others into the sex trade or labor as well as those who buy their services. The state has tried to provide addiction treatment, counseling, foster care, housing, and other services for victims as an alternative to jail.
An electronic billboard on a building on Erie Street near Monroe Street in downtown Toledo displays a message urging people to report human trafficking to the FBI.
Maureen Guirguis, co-director of Case Western Reserve University’s Human Trafficking Law Clinic, recalled representing five girls who were picked up in a prostitution sting. One was 16, and she was the only one charged with prostitution and drug offenses.
“How can you charge a 16-year-old with prostitution?” she asked. “Clearly she was being victimized. This 30-year-old pimp was selling her out of a hotel room on a Monday night.”
She may attempt, however, to change current law that applies lesser penalties and a higher burden of proof when someone solicits a minor who is 16 or 17 for sex than for a case involving someone 15 and younger.
Federal law makes no such distinction.
While it may differ from county to county, Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon said Lucas believes “children are children.”
“We look at those children under the age of 18, if victimized through human trafficking ... [as] victims. Period,” she said. “They are victims.”
Lora Sahmarani, an 11th grader, attended the summit with some of her fellow students from Toledo Early College High School.
“Human trafficking is a difficult topic to talk about,” she said. “With human trafficking, there are so many schools and so many youths out there that do have the opportunity to learn and become educated on the topic, considering how difficult and disgusting it is.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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