COLUMBUS, OH (Toledo News Now) – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has released a report outlining findings of an Ohio sex trafficking study that centered around 328 self-identified human trafficking victims.
The report, issued by the Attorney General's Human Trafficking Commission and authored by commission member and University of Toledo Professor Celia Williamson, took more than a year to compile and focused on minor and adult sex trafficking across the state.
"The Ohio Attorney General's Office asked the commission to go out into the community and talk with human trafficking victims," said DeWine. "Because of this report, we now have more insight into who is more likely to get trafficked and how to prevent it."
Researchers spoke with victims primarily in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, finding that more than one-third of the sample said they were trafficked for sex before the age of 18. A striking majority of female victims said they were recruited by other women also involved in the sex trade or who acted like a friend.
The study also focused on the lives of victims before they were trafficked, identifying similar early indicators that could be viewed as high-risk factors for other Ohio youth who have not yet been involved in the child sex trade.
Of the victims who spoke retrospectively about their childhood experiences:
• 63 percent reported they ran away from home at least once
• 59 percent reported they had friends who were involved in selling themselves
• 47 percent reported being raped more than a year before they were trafficked
• 44 percent reported being victims of abuse
"The number of victims who were runaways before their involvement with sex trafficking is very telling," said DeWine. "Right now our Missing Persons Unit at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation works with local law enforcement and families to locate runaways. We need to get to the root of the problem and make sure these kids don't slip through the cracks."
The report also included seven recommendations from the commission on how to stop future victimization:
• Establish a better response to Ohio youth who run away
• Identify child trafficking as child abuse
• Establish protocols that identify victims and divert high-risk youth
• Reduce the stigma related to youth victims
• Focus on arresting and convicting buyers
• Invest in responding to adult sex trafficking
• Engage schools in the fight against child sex trafficking
"From our sample of victims who entered the sex trade before age 18, none reported receiving assistance from a teacher," Williamson said in the report. "However, knowledgeable teachers are likely to recognize high-risk factors and intervene before a troubled child drops out of school."
The Attorney General's Human Trafficking Commission is offering a webinar later this month to teach education professionals the signs of human trafficking. Webinars will also be offered for students, families, and community members in the fall.
Members of the Human Trafficking Commission will take the recommendations in the report into consideration in the future work to fight sex trafficking.
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