The Columbus Dispatch • Friday January 16, 2015 5:11 AM
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Ohio’s putting up a better fight against sex-trafficking, but Franklin County Municipal Judge Paul M. Herbert prefers another benchmark: women putting their lives back together.
Herbert, creator of the specialty CATCH Court for women facing prostitution-related charges, said at an Ohio Human Trafficking Awareness Day event yesterday that he saw in the audience several women he had previously seen in his court. So far, 20 women have “graduated” from the demanding, two-year probation program.
“It was very assuring,” he said of seeing familiar faces in the audience. “It’s working.”
Herbert said Ohio is extending human-trafficking education and awareness to teachers, pediatric nurses, students and other groups.
Gov. John Kasich also remarked on the audience packing the Statehouse Atrium.
“A few years ago, you could have fit all the people who were interested in this in a telephone booth,” Kasich said. Now, the state is “fighting this thing tooth and nail.”
Kasich hailed sex-trafficking victims as “modern-day heroes” who struggle to survive after being “brutally damaged by pure evil.”
A handful of Ohio elected officials, including state Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, have been working for nearly a decade to change the law and culture to help women and girls forced against their will into prostitution. Ohio once had some of the weakest human-trafficking laws in the nation, but now it has some of the strongest, according to the Polaris Project, an international trafficking organization.
Along the way, the state funneled about $2 million into programs for trafficking victims.
Human trafficking affects an estimated 1,000 Ohio children annually, with 3,000 more at risk, according to the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.
The state’s progress made headlines Wednesday when local, state and federal officials raided four locations in Powell, Worthington and Columbus. They rescued 18 women, most of whom speak little or no English, who had apparently been trafficked to provide sex services for massage-parlor customers. The women worked, ate, slept and lived at the massage parlors, authorities said. All are considered key signs of sex trafficking.
The Salvation Army and other organizations stepped in to help the women. They were not charged with crimes.
Police arrested Xiao Shuang Chao, 56, and Qing Xu, age unknown, both of Columbus, who are suspected of operating the parlors and prostitution ring.
Fedor, who got interested in the cause when Toledo became the focus of national human-trafficking raids, said elected officials, activists and trafficking survivors have advocated “comprehensive solutions to combat human trafficking.”
She successfully led the charge to pass laws criminalizing human trafficking, provide a “safe harbor” for victims, and reduce the demand by going after sex-trade customers.