In the past weeks, over 650 Change.org members have told the Ohio senate that being a hotbed for modern slavery and still not having a decent law criminalizing human trafficking is not acceptable for a state. But recently, there’s been concrete evidence that the tides are changing in Ohio. The biggest victory is that SB 235, a bill that could make trafficking a felony, is finally headed towards the Senate. But the work is far from done. We have to ride this wave of change: urge state senators to pass SB 235, and encourage Ohio to fund additional shelters for human trafficking victims. Last week, a Toledo organization received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a shelter for trafficked girls. The 24-hour shelter, which is slated to open in January, will recommend counseling to victims and place some girls with host families. This is a huge step towards providing victims the safe haven they need — but it’s not enough. Trafficking victims are not exclusively teenage girls. In Ohio, it is estimated that 50 percent of trafficking victims are adults, and 20 percent are male. The shelter will also exclusively serve runaways and girls and women victimized in the commercial sex industry, excluding those exploited in sweatshops and farms. So where will all of these left-out victims go? Unless Ohio gets its act together, nowhere good. The shelter is a good start, but it’s just that — a start.
Next week, if SB 235 is voted out of the Criminal Justice Committee, it will go to the Senate. This is also exciting progress; previously, there was concern that the bill would be tabled due a shorter session of the General Assembly. If the bill clears the Senate, it will be sent to the House where it has a good chance of passing.
This critical bill would make human trafficking a second-degree felony, expand the existing law to include forced labor, and make it a first-degree felony to force a person younger than 16 into prostitution. This, in combination with more funding towards shelters, would go a long way towards combating Ohio’s major trafficking problem. But we have to act now. Urge the committee and the Senate to pass SB 235!