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    Fighting Against the Scourge of Human Trafficking

    This summer, University of Dayton School of Law students have been doing pro bono work by making legal services available to the poor and marginalized members of society. These students are supported by the Lisa A. Kloppenberg Public Interest Award, which come in the form of stipends to help pay for living expenses during the students’ internship. Public Interest Award recipient Blake Eilers writes about his experiences this summer.

    By Blake Eilers

    This summer, I assisted Judge Gregory F. Singer of the General Division of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio in preparing a presentation on human trafficking for a conference of more than 100 other Ohio Common Pleas judges. The public is generally aware of human trafficking internationally, but few realize that the scourge of this crime occurs with frequency domestically and that Ohio is a hotbed for this crime.

    The judge’s presentation was intended to inform these judges about newly passed Ohio legislation, Ohio Sub. S.B. 235, which creates the offense of trafficking in persons, codified at R.C. 2905.32 under the title, “Compulsion to Involuntary Servitude.” Before the passage of this legislation, Ohio had no standalone provision prohibiting human trafficking, but merely a specification that could be tacked on to a conviction for multiple violations in furtherance of trafficking. If proven, this specification imposed a mandatory minimum sentence, as specified by R.C. 2929.14(D)(7). This specification is still on the books, but this new legislation provides prosecutors with a tool that renders easier convictions for trafficking.

    Among other changes, this legislation prohibits possessing or destroying identification documents in furtherance of a number of offenses related to trafficking. In addition, kidnapping based on involuntary servitude now receives a harsher mandatory sentence, and the sentence reduction for unharmed release of the victim in a safe place is not available where imposing involuntary servitude is the purpose of the kidnapping. Likewise, abduction based on involuntary servitude merits harsher sentences. Finally, this legislation includes trafficking in persons in conspiracy law, corrupt activity law, offenses subject to “offense of violence” law, and violations subject to communications interception.

    As beneficial as this legislation is, it does not go far enough; victims of this heinous crime cannot simply return to normal life unaided. In recognition of this, Representative Teresa Fedor introduced Safe Harbor legislation, H.B. 262, on June 14, 2011. This bill is aimed at providing minor victims of trafficking with age-appropriate services, and would require the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to help victims connect with family members. It would also charge the Department of Health and Mental Health with customizing care to individual victims’ needs, and mandate that the appropriate authorities post information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in specified establishments including bars, strip clubs, hospitals, fairs, high schools, massage parlors, alternative health clinics, rest stops and truck stops. Importantly, the proposed legislation would modify the current statute prohibiting solicitation to specify that a minor cannot be convicted of a violation under that section if she or he is under duress or coercion pursuant to a trafficking offense, as defined by the current trafficking in persons statute.

    Research has shown that traffickers prefer to operate in states with lax trafficking laws, and, at least until recently, Ohio was one of these states. Indeed, the Northwest Innocence Lost Task Force cited Toledo as the number four city in the nation in terms of arrests for trafficking; per capita, the area leads the nation in terms of trafficking victims and perpetrators per capita, based on U.S. Census estimates. Hopefully, this nascent legislation will dissuade traffickers from preferring to operate in Ohio, but vigorous enforcement and widespread education are essential to effecting change in this area.