By Natalie Villacorta, The Plain Dealer
on June 28, 2013 at 5:49 PM, updated June 28, 2013 at 5:55 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Ohio Attorney General's Office released a report Thursday (June 27, 2013) saying that local law enforcement agencies had uncovered 30 cases of domestic sex trafficking this past year. The cases involved 38 victims and 21 traffickers.Only three of the cases were reported by agencies in Northeast Ohio, while over half were reported by agencies in Central Ohio, according to a spokesperson from the Attorney General's office.
Local authorities were required to report the trafficking statistics to Attorney General Mike DeWine's office by a state law passed last June. Known as the Safe Harbor Law, House Bill 262 created harsher penalties for human traffickers and strengthened support for victims. Human trafficking is described as an "enterprise that forces the most vulnerable among us into the horrors of modern-day slavery," on the attorney general's Website.
"Any time we can get the public to focus on human trafficking it's a good thing," DeWine said in an interview today. "Part of this whole process is educating people that human trafficking does occur in Ohio, does occur in the United States, and maybe does occur in your community -- and these are things people don't normally think about," he said.
The investigations have led to 15 arrests and 17 prosecutions, seven of which have led to convictions. Since 2011, the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Ohio has charged 32 people with human trafficking-related offenses, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said. Twenty-six of those people have been convicted to date.
In addition to the cases from Northeast and Central Ohio, Southwest Ohio agencies reported seven cases. Most of the 38 victims were between the ages of 18 and 29. About half of the traffickers were between the ages of 21 and 29. All but one victim was female, while all but one trafficker was male.
More than half of the victims had alcohol or drug dependency issues, or both. About a third were "oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished," according to the report. Traffickers largely used "drugs, the internet, and elements of force, fraud and coercion" to recruit their victims.
DeWine wrote in the report that "there is little doubt" that the statistics fail to capture the full extent to which human trafficking is occurring in the state.
He attributed such under-reporting to prosecutors often charging people with promoting or compelling prostitution in cases that are actually human trafficking.
In addition, state and federal confidentiality laws prohibit the inclusion of some trafficking data. Cases that were eventually prosecuted at the federal level were not included, nor were ongoing investigations by agencies belonging to the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the report said.
DeWine said that it is likely that some law enforcement agencies were unaware of the new requirement to report human trafficking data. Between now and January, when another report will be released, DeWine said his office is going to make a "concerted effort" to encourage more agencies to submit trafficking statistics. The office plans to publish yearly reports, which will enable them to track the problem over time.