By Alan JohnsonThe Columbus Dispatch Tuesday August 13, 2013 2:22 AM
While sex-trafficking convictions are being handed down by courts statewide, there have been none for labor trafficking even though new Ohio laws apply equally to both.
Convinced that labor trafficking is going on in Ohio — with immigrant populations especially vulnerable — state officials are planning to increase training, law enforcement and services for victims.
“We haven’t done such a good job with recognizing labor trafficking and what distinguishes it,” said Melinda Haggerty, head of the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission under Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The key language in state law prohibits “involuntary servitude,” defined as “being compelled to perform labor or services for another against one’s will.”
While there have been no labor-trafficking convictions in Ohio, respondents to a state agency survey reported 83 labor incidents.
Commission members spent much of yesterday’s meeting discussing how to sharpen the focus on labor trafficking, which experts say is common among immigrants working in hotels, construction, landscaping, nail salons and home care.
Haggerty said the state will adjust its law-enforcement training in human trafficking to apply to labor trafficking. Police and sheriffs are beginning to revise their view of women and girls forced into prostitution as victims rather than criminals. But the same can’t yet be said of labor-trafficking victims.
“If you find someone, what do you do?” asked Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly, a member of the commission. Kelly said he frequently sees foreign-born people deported for being in the U.S. illegally, but returning in a short time. He said many make financial arrangements to be smuggled back into the U.S. and must work to pay off the smugglers.
Anthony N. Talbott, a University of Dayton lecturer and chairman of Abolition Ohio, said that while 90 percent of trafficking victims worldwide are sold for labor, the numbers in the U.S. involve far more sex trafficking.
Haggerty said she is working with state and federal wage and hour officials, as well as the Ohio Department of Agriculture, to be on the lookout for potential violations.