SPECIAL TO THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
A hub for modern-day slavery, Ohio has become one of the nation’s most aggressive states in tackling the wretched problem of human trafficking, with multiple commissions, local task forces, and a comprehensive law that aims to protect victims while toughening tools in prosecuting such crimes.
Up to now, however, it has not had anyone to coordinate the efforts of state agencies, nonprofits, and law enforcement; examine best practices around the country; seek federal grants to fight trafficking; improve communication among counties, and advocate for victims on a statewide basis.
Give Gov. John Kasich credit for recognizing the need for a statewide point person on modern slavery — one of the few such positions in the nation — and appointing Elizabeth Ranade-Janis as Ohio’s first coordinator against human trafficking. The governor just launched a public awareness campaign, led by the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, to educate Ohioans on recognizing and reporting signs of human trafficking, as well as to direct victims to services and treatment. The campaign includes more than 5,000 posters.
With a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University, Ms. Ranade-Janis, 32, recently worked as manager of humanitarian and emergency affairs at World Vision, helping to coordinate the response to the Haiti earthquake.
Working out of the Department of Public Safety, Ms. Ranade-Janis is paid $69,500 a year, two-thirds of which comes from federal funds. It’s a small price for making the entire system more efficient and effective. Local advocates also now have someone they can call who has the governor’s ear.
Human trafficking includes the buying and selling of women and children, typically for prostitution but also for forced labor.
Because of high-profile stings exposing a large-scale sex trade, Toledo and northwest Ohio have become focal points for human trafficking, and state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) has led the fight against it.
Last week, Ms. Fedor conducted the fifth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Columbus. The Ohio Senate this week will start committee hearings on her End Demand Act (House Bill 130), which would increase penalties for purchasing sex from a minor or a person with developmental disabilities, make it a crime to use minors in advertisements for sexual activity, and terminate parental rights for individuals who traffic their children or other children under their care. The Senate should pass this bill.
Statewide, more than 1,000 children a year — some of them runaways — are forced into the trade, state officials estimate. Another 3,000 are at risk.
In 2012, Mr. Kasich helped push through Ohio’s anti-trafficking bill — the Safe Harbor Act — which made 10-year prison sentences mandatory for those convicted of human trafficking. It also encouraged juvenile court judges to divert trafficking victims to treatment, counseling, and other services.
A conservative who extols small government, Governor Kasich nevertheless understands that the state has an important role in protecting the most vulnerable and making people’s lives better. The governor has also acted aggressively on opiate addiction — another epidemic in Ohio — creating a statewide Opiate Action Team.
Coordinating Ohio’s efforts to fight human trafficking is not a panacea, but it will help the state better use scarce resources, protect victims, enforce laws, and take the people who engage in this sordid business off the streets.