COLUMBUS — On June 10, a registered sex offender previously convicted of soliciting a 14-year-old for sex was accused in a Wood County sting of trying to hire an undercover officer he thought was a 17-year-old girl.
He was charged with a third-degree misdemeanor and potentially faces a maximum of 60 days behind bars. But if he’d been arrested after Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 130 into law Friday, he would have faced a fifth-degree felony and as much as a year in jail.
“This is a market-driven bill,” said its sponsor, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo). “It’s simply about economics. No demand means no need for supply.”
In 2005, Toledo entered the ranks of cities such as Las Vegas and Miami, in terms of trafficking statistics, when a federal sting broke up a Harrisburg, Pa., ring involving 177 women and girls — 77 of them, including a 10-year-old girl, from the Toledo area.
Legislation over the last few years increased penalties primarily for those who coerce and manipulate others for profit and worked to treat those rescued more as victims than criminals.
The new End Demand Act shines the spotlight on the “johns” who fuel the market on which traffickers depend. It raises penalties, makes it easier to prosecute them when minors are under the age of 16, and cracks down on massage parlors fronting for prostitution.
“What this mosaic here represents, in my opinion, is the fact that people said, ‘I’m not going to wait for the government. I’m not going to wait for the police officer. I’m not going to wait for anything. I’m going to figure out how I can step up and do something that will make a difference in somebody else’s life,’ ” Mr. Kasich said at a ceremonial bill signing.
Ms. Fedor would still like to align Ohio law with federal law, making no age distinction when it comes to imposing penalties on those who sell minors for sex and those who buy their services. The Ohio bill signed into law Friday maintains a two-tier system.
Like the man charged in Wood County, someone caught soliciting a 16 or 17-year-old would face a fifth-degree felony.
But had he believed the person he had contacted through the Internet was 15 or younger, the charge would have escalated to a third-degree felony carrying up to three years.
“We’d like to think it will be a deterrent,” said Det. Lt. Jamie Webb, of the Wood County Sheriff’s office. “It’s going to be a greater sanction with the potential for more prison time.”
The bill also:
● Removes the minor trafficking victims’ names from police records even if they have criminal records.
● Prohibits massage parlor advertising that suggests sexual activity.
● Makes it easier to terminate parental rights when the parent sells his or her own child.
● Extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting trafficking from six years to 20 years when the perpetrator — a parent, a police officer, or a cleric — had authority over the child.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.