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TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) -
When it comes to crimes committed, human trafficking ranks second in the world after drug trafficking. To raise awareness, the University of Toledo is hosting its 10th annual Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference.
A decade ago, victims of human trafficking in Ohio were treated like criminals and those who forced them into modern-day slavery faced less severe criminal charges. But the efforts of Celia Williamson, UT professor of social work, and her conference changed that.
Last year, Ohio passed the Safe Harbor Law, which increases penalties for adults who profit from human trafficking. It also treats juveniles forced into prostitution as victims, providing access to treatment, counseling and other services.
The law was championed by Rep. Teresa Fedor (D. Toledo) who now is advocating for the End Demand Act, which would further address trafficking in the state. The proposed law increases penalties for the solicitation of minors.
"It is imperative we build on this momentum in Ohio to continue to make great strides in increasing awareness about trafficking and curbing the practice that continues to victimize far too many young people," said Williamson, who also is the founder of Second Chance, a social service program in Toledo, which provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic sex trafficking and prostitution.
On Thursday, survivors turned activists, Sarita Skagnes and Theresa Flores, spoke on their life experiences hoping to inspire and spark change.
Skagnes is the author of the book "Just a Daughter," which shares her story of being exchanged by her parents for a boy because they wanted a son, plus how she was left behind to work as a maid servant.
"We need to spread this information so people can get the information and the knowledge, just to let them know this is happening," said Skagnes.
Flores is the author of "The Slave across the Street," which shares her experience as a sex-trafficking victim when she was a teenager living in suburban Detroit.
"We all deserve to be treated with respect and that's the bottom line," said Flores.
Flores says this crime is still one that needs to be fought.
"It's the second leading crime in the world and the U.S. I mean, the only thing that supersedes it is drug trafficking, and drug traffickers are now trafficking humans, too, because they can make more money and there is less risk," explained Flores.
The conference will feature more than 45 presenters on topics, such as recruitment in jails, how hotels and motels facilitate trafficking, as well as transgender youth in the sex trade. International components include examining trafficking concerns in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey.