Anti-Trafficking Efforts in Ohio

Anti-Trafficking Laws Overview

According to the United Nations, Human trafficking has three components: act (what is done), means (how it is done), and purpose (why it is done). Trafficking is a $150 billion dollar global industry, with 20.9 million victims worldwide (Polaris Project, 2017). The majority are victims of forced labor, about a quarter are children, and more than half are women and girls (Polaris Project, 2017). The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 set the stage for federal trafficking laws, with more legislation varying state-to-state.

The TVPA is the “cornerstone of Federal human trafficking legislation” (Polaris Project, 2016). It lays out ways to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking. It worked to establish human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes, attached penalties to these crimes, mandated restitution be paid to victims of trafficking, and established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons which publishes the TIP report each year (Polaris Project, 2016).  

Three years later, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 was established. This act gave victims the civil right of action to sue their traffickers, as well as protected victims and their families from deportation (Polaris Project, 2016). This legislation was reintroduced again in 2005 and included more ways to prevent trafficking and ways to collect data on human trafficking. The most recent version of this legislation was passed with the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 and strengthened the provisions that prevent the United States from purchasing products made by victims of human trafficking (Polaris Project, 2016).

Where Ohio Stands

The federal law states that anyone under the age of 18 charged with any type of prostitution offense is a victim. Ohio differs from this by changing the age to 16. Anyone above 16, and even still a minor, has to prove compulsion to be seen as a victim of trafficking. More specifically, in Ohio, the trafficker has to be proved to be in a position of authority for the proof of compulsion to not be needed. This is problematic, as most of Ohio trafficking victims are victims of “boyfriend trafficking” (Jordan, 2018). This type of trafficking occurs when a girl’s boyfriend gives her what she has been without, attention, money, love, etc., and then trafficks her. Most of these victims don’t actually see themselves as victims, but more as adults with their own free will. A large percentage of trafficking victims are sexual abuse survivors (National Human Trafficking Hotline, n.d), which creates

further issues surrounding bodily autonomy and what abuse is and is not.

Much of the reported trafficking in Ohio happens in low-income communities, where the victims feel the push and pull factors of trafficking. The push factors are but are not limited to, poverty, foster care, being a runaway, and interaction with the juvenile court system (Jordan, 2018). The pull factors are hope, escape oppression, and the high demand for the services trafficked victims provide (Jordan, 2018). In Ohio, 63% of reported victims of trafficking experienced some sort of abuse throughout their lives (Haggerty, n.d.). The child victims are mostly 17 years old or younger and are almost equally white and Black, and a smaller percentage is Hispanic (Jordan, 2018). Their age of 17 is difficult, as they could be charged as an adult and not receive the benefits of the Safe Harbor laws.

In 2010, the Ohio Attorney General’s office determined that 1,000 minors are victims of sex trafficking each year (Ohio AG, 2010). The majority of human trafficking in Ohio is sex trafficking, which includes commercial sex, survival sex, child porn, and massage parlor trafficking. However; there is labor trafficking in the state, mainly in the agricultural communities and through magazine sales (Jordan, 2018). In 2017, four people were charged for labor trafficking in Marion, Ohio. Teenagers were taken from Central America and forced to work in poor conditions on an egg farm (Torry, 2017). Trying to help foreign-born victims has always been difficult due to their distrust of law enforcement and fear of deportation if undocumented. The current political climate has only made this issue worse.

Ohio’s Anti-Human Trafficking Policy

Ohio’s first stand-alone anti-human trafficking law was Senate Bill 235 in 2011. This added the crime of trafficking to the Ohio Revised Code. The definition of trafficking is similar to how the TVPA defines it. Ohio explicitly states that in order to be trafficking there has to be proof of compulsion, which means they were overcome by “force, fear, duress, or intimidation” (Haggerty, n.d.). In 2012, House Bill 262 was introduced. It raised the penalty for trafficking from a second degree to a first-degree felony and set mandatory prison time for 10-15 years. It also required traffickers to register as sex offenders and made obstruction of justice in trafficking cases a more serious offense.

Many states prohibit minors from being charged with prostitution offenses. Ohio is not one of those states, and children as young as 11 years old have been charged with prostitution in Ohio. This is especially concerning considering the age of consent is 16, so how an 11-year-old could consent to sexual activities without compulsion is puzzling. The Safe Harbor Law is one of Ohio’s most progressive laws surrounding how we treat trafficking victims. This law attempts to help victims recover from trauma instead of face punishment for it. It works through abeyance, which basically takes the prostitution-related offense and pushes it “to the side” for holding. 

Then, the juvenile victims go through diversion services, where they are placed in a safe environment with supervision and trauma services. The services are focused on counseling and medical treatment, but also work to help the victims be children through exercise, education, mentorship, volunteerism, and more.  A major benefit to the law is that the victim does not have to cooperate with law enforcement. Many times, law enforcement and prosecutors will want victims to testify against their trafficker or traffickers. In one instance, Kim Jordan spoke of an Ohio teen victim who was forced to travel across the country to testify against her trafficker (Jordan, 2018).


Ohio’s Anti-Trafficking Work

Ohio’s Human Trafficking Task Force is composed of 23 coalitions throughout the state of Ohio. They are represented in 70 of the 88 Ohio counties. Together, they work to identify victims, create a coordinated law enforcement response that investigates and prosecutes traffickers. They also focus on giving victims the services and treatments they need to heal. Besides the coalitions, there are also 10 state agencies who work with the task force. The state agencies that are 

represented are the ones one would assume such as health and public safety, but even more interestingly Cosmetology, Agriculture, Medicaid, and Youth Services also with the task force.

The task force has created multiple awareness campaigns. One campaign in particular is called Ohio’s Awareness Campaign and began in January 2014. This campaign was composed 

of information posters, fact sheets, billboards, and full-page ads. Its objective was to increase awareness that this crime happens in our state, and to drive people to call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline if they believe they witnessed trafficking situations. This campaign was in both English and Spanish. Another group and campaign the task force works with is Truckers Against Trafficking, which trains truck drivers to know the signs of trafficking and to report it.

Anti-Trafficking Current Events

Ohio’s own Rob Portman recently introduced SESTA- Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act. This is the Senate version of House Bill FOSTA- Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. Both laws are problematic as they make consensual sex work unsafe but dismantling the resources sex workers have to ensure their safety through “bad date lists,” working indoors, and communicating with one another (Arnold, 2018). FOSTA, however; goes as far as to conflate sex work and human trafficking. Another criticism of these bills is that it censors the internet, as it works to change Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This section explains that platforms cannot be held responsible for what users put on the internet. FOSTA-SESTA wants to change this by holding platforms responsible for prostitution advertisements on their site, even consensual ones. This law does not actually crack down on sex trafficking, but instead harms sex workers and make their lives more difficult and dangerous.  


Ohio’s anti-trafficking laws differ slightly from the federal laws, but the slight difference is largely problematic, as it makes it harder for 16 and 17-year-olds to be seen as the victims they are. One of Ohio’s more progressive laws surrounding trafficking is the Safe Harbor law. This is a program for minors charged with a prostitution-related offense to heal and expunge their charges. Ohio has many groups working to end trafficking, many of them working for a more rehabilitative response from law enforcement and the government rather than a punitive one. However, as evidenced with FOSTA-SESTA, there are many people who have power that do not understand the difference between sex work and trafficking, which is a very dangerous road to go down. As seen with these laws, the conflation of the two only makes sex work more dangerous for consensual sex workers. While Ohio may not be the most progressive state, there are still moves in the right direction despite what is happening at the federal level.

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Arnold, A. (2018, March 20). Here’s What’s Wrong With the So-Called Anti–Sex Trafficking Bill. Retrieved from

Haggerty, M. S. (n.d.). Human trafficking in Ohio. Retrieved from

Jordan, Kim. (April 13, 2018). Kim Jordan, Guest Speaker in WGSS 5450.

Human Trafficking Year End Report 2010. (2010, December 15). Retrieved from

National Human Trafficking Hotline. (n.d.). Hotline Statistics. Retrieved from

Polaris Project. (2016, October 17). Current Federal Laws. Retrieved from

Polaris Project. (2017, October 26). The Facts. Retrieved from

Torry, J. (2017, December 28). Fourth man charged in labor trafficking at Ohio egg farms. Retrieved from

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