Toledo, with its high ranking as a national leader in the recruitment of minors for the sex trade, could soon be leading state efforts to address the problem.
On Wednesday, Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara announced he is sponsoring a proposal that would mandate all sexually oriented businesses in the city to display posters printed with a toll-free hot line number that victims of sex trafficking can call. The legislation would strengthen part of a state bill on human trafficking expected to soon become law.
"I think we have special issues here in Toledo given our history with the problem and the hope is this ordinance will create awareness to the victims of human trafficking that there are resources available out there for you," the councilman said. "There's a correlation obviously between individuals who work in sexually oriented businesses that we hope this will get the information to the population that we're trying to help."
Under the Ohio legislation, House Bill 262, adult entertainment businesses are encouraged but not mandated to display the posters. If the Toledo ordinance passes, establishments could face a $1,000-a-day fine and other penalties if they fail to comply, Mr. McNamara said.
House Bill 262, which recently passed the Ohio House and Senate, could be signed into law by Gov. John Kasich as early as next week, most likely in Toledo. The bill also encourages poster displays at highway truck stops, hotels, beauty salons, hospitals, fairs, sporting events, and massage parlors. Mr. McNamara said he would consider expanding his proposed mandate if he secures the support of fellow councilmen.
Under the proposal, establishments would have to display the posters where employees can see them. The posters will list a number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center that victims can call to receive help. People who suspect human trafficking is taking place can also call the number to make a report.
Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), sponsor of the state legislation, lauded Mr. McNamara's attempt to add teeth to the House bill's provision on poster displays, something she said she had tried unsuccessfully to do. She said posters already put up by state highway patrolmen along Ohio roadways, the turnpike, and at rest stops have helped save victims of human trafficking by giving them a number to call.
Toledo's major role as a recruiting center for minors into the sex trade came to light following a 2005 federal sting in Harrisburg, Pa. There, authorities broke up a sex-trafficking operation involving 177 females, 77 of them from the Toledo area, including a 10-year-old girl.
Celia Williamson, co-chairman of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, said citizens need to become aware of the signs of sex trafficking, particularly of minors.
These include children with cash, jewelry, or electronic gadgets that don't match their family's income; teens in relationships or spending time with much older men, and kids with sexually transmitted diseases.
Ms. Williamson encouraged people to call the hot line and report anything they find suspicious.
The hot line number is 1-888-373-7888. More information about human trafficking can be found at www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.