Those of you who thought Ohio was all about rock n' roll, amazing chili, and a seriously unhealthy football obsession may want to think again. A new report conducted by the Trafficking in Persons Study Commission found that 1800 people are trafficked in Ohio every year. This includes 800 immigrants who are exploited in commercial sex and factory work, as well as about 1000 American-born children who are forced into prostitution. Who would have thought that Ohio would be such a hotebed of human trafficking?
But why Ohio, whose largest city, Columbus, is dwarfed by neighboring Chicago? How can a place that sounds and appears so wholesome be responsible for forcing a thousand children into sexual slavery each year? The report cites weak laws on human trafficking, a growing demand for cheap labor, and Ohio's proximity to the Canadian border as the key reasons modern-day slavery thrives in the state. I'm going to take a metaphorical highlighter to that word "demand," because that is the key to the human trafficking crisis.
Like many other places in the U.S., Ohio has a growing immigrant population, including those who have migrated legally, illegally but voluntarily, and involuntarily. Undocumented migrants are at increased risk for trafficking and exploitation, and in Ohio about 800 of them were found exploited in factories, agriculture, constriction sites, and brothels. Often, migrants are trafficked by high organized criminal networks who transport the victims into and around the U.S. They are the criminals, but it's the demand for cheap goods and food and for commercial sex that create an industry for trafficked immigrant workers.
What may be even more shocking in this study, however, is the 1000 American children who were forced into commercial sex over the course of a single year. It is shocking because it means that enough men in Ohio were willing to pay to rape a child to make trafficking that many kids profitable and worth the risk. If each of those children had sex with 5 men per night, 6 nights a week, that over 150,000 sex acts per year. Potentially, that's 150,000 men who are buying sex with trafficked children in Ohio. The report cited laws and geography as primary causes of trafficking in Ohio, but I would ask them to take a long hard look at the demand for commercial sex with children.
Ohio first made it onto the map of major trafficking destinations when a child sex trafficking ring that moved victims from truck stop to truck stop along the rust belt was busted. Most of the activity was centered in Toledo, Ohio, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Not exactly the places I would have picked in my "International Criminal Trafficking Rings" poll. But traffickers go where they can make money by selling their victims, and those places were small cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
If all this bad news about Ohio has depressed you, check out this video, which celebrates some of the glories of Cleveland.