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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

In reversal, prosecutors back law on trafficking

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - After previously opposing attempts to change state law, Ohio prosecutors have agreed that they could use another weapon in their arsenal to directly target those who recruit victims into modern-day labor and sex slavery.

John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, told a Senate committee yesterday that its position has evolved as studies have suggested Ohio's involvement in forced labor and prostitution is greater than originally believed.

The association has thrown its support behind a bill, sponsored by Sens. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) and Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), that would create a stand-alone second-degree felony of "trafficking in persons" punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), however, yesterday picked up the prosecutors' prior argument that such activity is already illegal under Ohio law.

He pointed to a recent case in which a Chillicothe man is accused of using online tools like Craig's List and My Space to lure young women into prostitution. He faces life in prison for sex trafficking by force, 5 years for prostitution conspiracy, 10 years for transportation for prostitution, and 20 years for enticement.

"That's life plus 35," he said. "How does this law change that? Life-plus-35 sounds like existing laws are adequate to the task to me."

Ms. Fedor noted that case is being prosecuted under a federal charge of which Ohio currently has no equivalent.

Senate Bill 235 would create a stand-alone felony that would apply to people who recruit, entice, or solicit a person, or attempt to do so, with the knowledge or reason to believe that person will be compelled into forced labor, prostitution, or pornography.

"It is shocking to learn that our children end up with a criminal record while the real criminals - the traffickers that sell human beings and the customers that buy them walk away from the halls of justice with little or no penalty," said Ms. Fedor, at one point fighting back tears.

"Our children need to be protected now," she said. "We cannot wait one more day to fix this."



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