Sex trafficking and drug addiction are often found together, said Cara Rearick, a mental health counselor for A Renewed Mind, which is why she is glad to see a bill in the U.S. Senate designed to tackle the intersection of the two issues.
“Traffickers, as we know too well, often exploit drug addiction or expose victims to drugs for the first time to control or force victims into prostitution,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) — one of the sponsors of the bipartisan PROTECT Act of 2018 — said Tuesday at the University of Toledo. “These crimes are already heinous enough. Fanning the flames of drug addiction only makes victims’ trauma worse, makes it that much harder to recover.”
The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and four other senators from both parties, seeks to hold human traffickers accountable for causing or exacerbating drug addition in their victims along with offering protections for trafficking victims who are forced to commit crimes.
“Law enforcement supports this because they see the situation with these young women, often picked up as high school runaways,” Mr. Brown said. “We want to see these young women protected. It’s hard enough to break out of this cycle without the law coming down on you.”
Traffickers will use strong opiates to addict and subdue victims, complicating an already difficult process of extricating women from their traffickers.
“These drugs take our victims’ lives before we have an opportunity to help them, before they have an opportunity for freedom, and before they have an opportunity for any interventions,” said Celia Williamson, the director of UT’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute. “I’m proud to be in a state where there are two senators, Democrat and Republican, that set aside any differences to work together on this issue.”
“Too often, drugs are used to coerce victims of human trafficking,” Mr. Portman said in a statement last week when the bill was first introduced. “This bipartisan legislation would better equip law enforcement to bring human traffickers to justice.”
Trafficking victims often end up in prisons or jails without anyone recognizing them as victims, Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp said, adding that needs to change.
“Our corrections officers that work in our jail see the individuals day in and day out,” he said. “One of the things that we must do is educate officers to be able to identify and talk with individuals that have been victimized.”
Sex trafficking is not a unique problem for Toledo, Mr. Brown said, the problem has been more troublesome here than in other parts of the country because of the city’s location.
“This community has risen to the occasion,” he said.
The bill is in its earliest stages in the Senate, and a parallel bill was also introduced in the House.
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