COLUMBUS — If Ohio is going to be serious about cracking down on the selling of minors for sex, it has to get serious about those paying for them, advocates argued Wednesday.
“The demand for sex and labor trafficking is thriving, so as we help individuals to a point of safety in restoring their lives, unfortunately there are just more and more victims out there that traffickers are going to turn to,” Michelle Hannan of the Salvation Army in Central Ohio told the House Judiciary Committee.
After previously pushing legislation aimed primarily at the traffickers themselves, the latest bill from Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) targets the market driving modern-day slavery for the sex trade.
Anyone who buys or solicits the sexual services of someone under the age of 18 would face a second-degree felony, regardless of whether the “john” knew the person he was hiring was underage. That carries prison time of up to eight years and would require registration as a sex offender.
Current law sets different penalties and burdens of proof for prosecutions, depending on the age of the minor involved.
The recent news that three women had been imprisoned for nearly a decade in a Cleveland home was mentioned several times during the hearing. But there has been no accusation yet that the women were trafficked.
John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, voiced support for increasing the penalty for soliciting a minor, but he questioned whether a second-degree felony is too severe. Currently, solicitation is a third-degree felony.
“I think one of the concerns that the prosecutors have … is that having [consensual] sex with a person who is 13, 14, or 15, when the offender is four or more years older than the ‘victim’…, is a felony four,” he said. “So you could conceivably have a penalty here for soliciting a person that is higher than the penalty for actually having sex with a person.”
Megan Mattimoe of Toledo, legal advocacy director for Ao, or Advocating Opportunity, provides legal and court-appointed guardian services for trafficking victims who are minors. She said the comparison between having sex with a minor and a trafficked minor is misplaced.
“In over 90 percent of the cases, the women are not consenting, particularly when you’re talking about children, who can’t necessarily consent to sex with an adult, much less consent to be trafficked,” she said.
The issue was brought to Toledo’s attention in 2005 when a federal sting in Harrisburg, Pa., broke up a trafficking ring involving 177 females. Seventy-seven of the victims were from the Toledo area, including a 10-year-old girl.
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