Each year, over 1,000 American minors are trafficked in the state of Ohio, and hundreds of immigrants are exploited in farms, factories, and even nail salons. That's why state Senator Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) has introduced a bill that would give Ohio one of the strongest human trafficking laws in the country. But the proposal might not make the agenda of the next legislative session. It’s not too late to stop slavery in the Buckeye state — but we must take action immediately. Enacting State Senate Bill 235 would make 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. Currently, Ohio does not have a stand-alone human trafficking law, and it is one of only five states where trafficking is not a felony. In contrast, convicted traffickers in my home state of Montana can face up to 100 years in prison.
There are other reasons Ohio is the perfect storm for trafficking. The state has a large immigrant population and close proximity to the Canadian border. Undocumented workers are at an increased risk for trafficking, and each year, about 800 migrants in Ohio are exploited in factories, farms and brothels. For example, federal and state police recently busted a trafficking ring in Ohio that forced migrant women to work in nail salons in conditions of debt bondage across the state. Another problem lies in the state’s failure to properly investigate runaway cases. One study found that ninety percent of runaway children become involved in the sex industry. Toledo has even been called the number one teen prostitution location in the United States, and the victims are almost exclusively American-born girls.
Although hundreds of supporters have advocated for the bill — including several federally sponsored human trafficking coalitions — it may never see the light of day. Ohio Senate President Bill Harris is planning to shorten the next session of the General Assembly, potentially cutting the bill from the agenda. In that case, it would have to be reintroduced in January. The victims of trafficking in America’s heartland can’t wait until January. The bill needs to pass now.
If we get 1000 signatures — one for every child trafficked in Ohio this year — it will be a huge stride towards ending trafficking in the United States. Sign this petition and contact your representatives and the Ohio Senate President today.