Last Thursday Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich announced a $5 million initiative to reduce the risk of violence from those with mental health issues.
The very next day Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch reported that Kasich took part in a human trafficking awareness event, following on signing legislation last year to combat sex-slavery in Ohio.
“The average age of a runaway is 12, usually a female,” [Officer Ken Lawson, the human trafficking liaison for Columbus police] said today at the Human Traffic Awareness Day session at the Ohio Statehouse. “How does a 12-year old girl stay away from home for any length of time? She has help, right? And then they want something in return for that help.”
A state commission estimated there are more than 1,000 children trafficked for sex in Ohio annually with 3,000 more at risk.
Linda Smith, head of Shared Hope International, a group that focuses on minor trafficking victims, said the problem will remain as long as there are customers – mainly men – who pay to have sex with minors.
“There is an underground market for American youth that is driven by demand,” she said.
Ohio lawmakers passed and Kasich signed a law last year providing a “safe harbor” for minors who are sold in prostitution. The law also somewhat toughened prosecution for “johns” who pay for sex.
Until June of last year, the girls who were trapped in the sex trade were treated as criminals if they managed to escape and go to authorities. They had, after all, been working as prostitutes. Clearly an area where the law utterly failed the needs to society. Thankfully, that was changed. In June the Ohio General Assembly passed and Governor Kasich signed into law a measure that both toughens the penalties on those convicted of human trafficking, and “treats juveniles who are charged with prostitution as victims and allows them to have criminal charges expunged if they go through a diversion program for treatment, counseling, and other services.”
Good steps to make the law more humane. More, please. Too many lives are being shattered by this awful vice.