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Published: Friday, 7/28/2006

Ohio lawmakers' bills would toughen penalties for pimps

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Ohio lawmakers are lining up to introduce bills giving prosecutors' ammunition in going after those who traffic in human beings for prostitution and labor.

Sen. David Goodman (R., Bexley) and Rep. Katherine Chandler (D., Kent) yesterday introduced differing bills in their respective chambers to create new offenses specifically targeting traffickers and increase penalties. Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) is drafting a bill similar to Ms. Chandler's to compete with Mr. Goodman's in the Senate.

Repeating the story of "Crystal" as reported by The Blade in January, Mr. Goodman proposed the creation of three felony charges with potential prison sentences that range from six months to 10 years. Crystal, sexually abused and angry over her parents' divorce, left home at 14, began trading sex for food and shelter, and was eventually sent by her pimp to "cat houses" in New York City.

"It's disgusting, a horrible thing," Mr. Goodman said. "It's a black mark on our communities."

A two-year FBI probe of childhood prostitution exposed a national problem in which Toledo played a major part.

Columbus Detective Ken Lawson noted that, under current Ohio law, someone who uses an underage girl in pornographic photos or at a strip club faces a potential jail sentence of eight years. But a pimp who uses the same girl for prostitution with much greater risk for violence and disease faces a sentence of just three years.

"Twenty-seven million are enslaved worldwide," he said. "That's double the number that ever did the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes."

Mr. Goodman's bill attempts to mirror federal law. It would create new first-degree felonies of human trafficking for forced labor and sexual servitude of a minor, both carrying prison sentences of three to 10 years.

It also creates five variations of a new charge of involuntary servitude that would be applied depending on the role the offender played in the process. The offenses would range from a first-degree felony to a fifth-degree felony. The latter carries a sentence of six months to a year.

The Democratic bills would create a single first-degree felony of human trafficking. Both bills would provide mechanisms for victims to later seek restitution from those who used them, but the Democratic version would also provide such things as protection, housing, counseling, and legal assistance for victims.



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