COLUMBUS -- Ohio's next step in its battle against modern-day slavery in the sex trade is headed to the House floor as early as today.
The bill would mix more sympathetic treatment of victims with tougher penalties against those who coerce them into selling themselves and those whose money fuels the machine.
"There have to be harsher penalties … " said Marlene Carson of Columbus, who spent nine years as a human trafficking victim, beginning at the age of 15. "I saw many guys during that time. These guys were paying $200 to $300 per hour to have sex with a teenager. That's not your average john on the street."
Ms. Carson is now involved with Rahab's Hideway, providing housing, counseling, medical, and other services for adult trafficking victims. It will begin to serve minor victims next month.
Toledo received unwanted attention in 2005 when a federal sting in Harrisburg, Pa., broke up a sex-trafficking operation involving 177 females. Seventy-seven of the victims were from the Toledo area, including a 10-year-old girl.
The bill is on the fast track, getting support from Gov. John Kasich who has created his own cabinet task force on the issue.
House Bill 262, as Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) originally proposed, would have flatly prohibited the prosecution of anyone under the age of 18 for prostitution, making the assumption that someone who cannot legally consent to sex cannot legally consent to selling sex.
But as unanimously approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, the bill would now create a program through which judges could put criminal charges on hold while apparent victims are placed into protective services and are given counseling, treatment, and other help.
If the minors successfully complete the program, the criminal charge would go away.