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House bill aims to deter sex trafficking

COLUMBUS — Tougher penalties await “johns” who pay minors for sex, regardless of whether they knew their age, under a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by the Ohio House.

House Bill 130 is the latest in a series of attempts by Ohio to legislate its way out from under its reputation as a hub for modern-day slavery, particularly for the sex trade. The measure now goes to the Senate, which isn’t expected to take it up until after its summer recess which is set to begin later this week.

“The buying and selling of people is big business, folks…,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), told her colleagues. “Now we must finish what we started. Ending demand makes sense.”

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The bill gets rid of a two-tier system of prosecutions created in Ohio’s last human-trafficking law passed last year. That law created differing penalties for sex-for-hire customers based on the age of the trafficked victim.

Instead, those who solicit a minor for sex would be prosecuted with a third-degree felony, carrying jail time of up to five years, instead of a misdemeanor. They would also have to register as sex offenders regardless of whether they knew the minors they hired for sex were under the age of 18 or were developmentally disabled.

The bill no longer contains a provision that would have required the spouse of someone charged with soliciting to be notified of the arrest.

The so-called End Demand Act would also:

— Prohibit the purchase of any advertising of prostitution that depicts a minor, including Internet sites.

— Prohibit someone not licensed by government to advertise massage services, a move targeting the proliferation of massage parlors that front for prostitution.

— Authorize a court to allow a trafficking victim to testify via closed-circuit television from outside the courtroom.

“Whether you know it or not, this is happening in your community…,” Rep. Denise Driehaus (D., Cincinnati) said. “It’s real, and there are real victims.”

The state has already passed laws toughening penalties against those who traffick in people for the sex trade, forced labor, or domestic servitude and to steer victims away from jail cells toward drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, and other services. Gov. John Kasich, who has used his clout to push legislation through, has hired Ohio’s first full-time anti-human-trafficking coordinator.

Ohio’s role as a crossroads in human-trafficking came to light in 2005 when a federal sting broke up a trafficking ring in Harrisburg, Pa. That ring involved 177 females, and 77 of them, including a 10-year-old girl, were from the Toledo area.

Highlighting the urgency placed on the problem, lawmakers unanimously supporting the attachment of an emergency clause to the bill. That will allow it to take effect immediately upon receiving the signature of the governor rather than have to wait the customary 90 days.

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.

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