Editorial: Sex trafficking is an evil beast that steals freedom, wrecks lives, destroys families

A recent editorial by the Columbus Dispatch:

Editorial: Sex trafficking is an evil beast that steals freedom, wrecks lives, destroys families

A councilman running for re-election in the Cleveland suburb of Elyria told a Dispatch reporter that he felt the urge to vomit when he realized he was entangled in a statewide police web that recently saw 161 would-be johns arrested.

We hope Mark N. Jessie, who pleaded not guilty to solicitation charges, and many others learn from this experience.

The truly nauseating thing about what was believed to be the largest sting operation of its kind in Ohio is that the arrests likely will only momentarily slow this mammoth, evil beast wrecks lives, sink marriages and destroys families.

Also disturbing is that three of the perpetrators were willing to pay to have sex with who they thought were minors. At the same time, 10 minors previously reported missing were recovered.

Operation Ohio Knows was a stark reminder that hundreds of people — mostly women and children — are preyed upon in Ohio each year due to human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that Polaris, a nonprofit that operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, says steals freedom from 24.9 million people worldwide.

It is a big problem globally and right here at home.

The Buckeye State ranked fifth in the nation in 2019 when it comes to human trafficking.

In recent years, Ohio has taken giant leaps in the way it thinks of sex workers.

Human trafficking courses are offered by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.

House Bill 143, which became effective in April, eliminated the two-tiered system in Ohio’s child sex trafficking laws, bringing the state into compliance with federal law.

Prosecutors had been required to demonstrate fraud, force, or coercion for 16- or 17-year-old trafficking victims to qualify for protections available to other minors.

Sex buyers now also face tougher penalties than those who sell sex.

The offense is now a first-degree misdemeanor. Offenders are required to attend a so-called “john school” or treatment programs and face a fine of up to $1,500 and/or 180 days in jail.

Soliciting, a misdemeanor of the third degree previously used to both buyers and sellers, now only applies to those who sell sex.

It carries up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Attorney General Dave Yost has also pushed for the creation of a john’s registry with House Bill 431, but that portion did not become law.

Language he supports that would make it a crime to knowingly receive the proceeds from a prostitution is in House Bill 276. It would carry escalating penalties for each subsequent offense up to three years in prison.

More work has to be done to save lives.

As the pandemic raged on in 2020, Ohio law enforcement reported 216 human trafficking investigations leading to 76 arrests and 18 successful criminal convictions, according to the attorney general’s office.

There were 148 potential victims of human trafficking identified that year. Three were labor-trafficking victims; the rest were suspected victims of sex trafficking.

That was a decrease from 2019, when Ohio law enforcement reported 251 human trafficking investigations leading to 166 arrests and 56 successful criminal convictions.

That year, there were 307 potential victims identified, including 305 victims of sex trafficking.

Human trafficking is widely considered to be underreported, but information from Polaris provides a glimpse of the sad and frightening reality.

In 2019, it identified 890 human trafficking victims in Ohio, more than half of them sex-trafficking victims.

This is not a problem happening somewhere else. It is in our backyard.

A recent Human Trafficking Institute report found that in 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, which includes Columbus, charged 15 defendants in three federal human-trafficking cases.

It was the second highest number of federal human-trafficking defendants in the nation behind the Northern District of Texas, which charged charged 18 defendants in 2020.

The Southern District’s cases included charges against Columbus resident Crystal Porter and eight others in relation to an alleged sex trafficking ring in Scioto County involving the exchange of drugs for access to children.

Federal prosecutors just added sex trafficking to the growing criminal case against Ricco Lamonte Maye, 39, of the Northeast Side.

A 10-count indictment unsealed in March included a scheme to illegally obtain unemployment benefits as a result of COVID-19 and allegations of drug trafficking.

We urge Ohioans to watch for signs of sex trafficking and watch out for vulnerable people, such as those who have an unstable living situation, are addicted to drugs or alcohol are undocumented immigrants.

Human traffickers operate in the shadows, and yet, their victims, those being trafficked, are visible on the streets and in ads for escort services, illicit massage businesses or brothels loosely described with some euphemism.

Sex traffickers in nearly 87% of criminal sex trafficking cases used the internet to sell their victim for sex services in 2018, according to the 2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report.

Jessie, the Elyria councilman, said he thought he was seeking sex from someone selling it on the “Skip the games” website.

As Yost says, human traffickers have no place in Ohio.

“We want to send a message to everybody in the country: Don’t buy sex in Ohio,” he said recently.

It is up to all of us to help drive all sex traffickers into the light – and prison.

— Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 8