COLUMBUS - Ohio's social-service and justice systems are ill-equipped to recognize and help victims of modern-day slavery, a state task force concluded yesterday.
Law enforcement often doesn't recognize that those they've arrested are victims, not criminals, while others sometimes fall through the cracks even when identified because of a lack of residential programs, counseling, and other services, the report said.
"Some of them may well be criminals, but the assumption that everybody involved in human trafficking is a criminal as opposed to a victim … is something that has to be sorted through to a greater degree," said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, chairman of the Trafficking in Persons Study Commission.
Co-chaired by Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), the commission is nearing its one-year anniversary. Consisting of Mr. Cordray, lawmakers, federal and local law enforcement, academics, former trafficking victims, and social service organizations, the commission was created by the General Assembly to provide an in-depth study of the practice of forcing people, particularly women and juveniles, against their will into the sex trade, domestic servitude, or forced labor.
Yesterday's subcommittee report noted that while the commission has estimated that 1,861 foreign-born people and domestic juveniles were trafficked over the course of a year in Ohio, only 118 people were receiving trafficking-related services at the time of its survey.
The subcommittee has recommended building local coalitions to increase public awareness, provide training, and coordinate responses whenever victims are identified. The report made no effort to identify a price tag to implement its recommendations.
"We wanted to see what a system of services could look like and needs to look like from the standpoint of responding to the problem," Mr. Cordray said. "The further issue of how you actually get there is something that's going to require further work."
The subcommittee cited examples of victims who either disappeared or returned to those who enslaved them through coercion, violence, or other means because residential and other services weren't in place.
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