When Law and Justice Collide: The Successful Resolution to the Human Trafficking Issue in Ohio
By Dr. Christi Scott Bartman
Faculty Member, Public Administration at American Public University
In 2005 the FBI broke up a large prostitution ring in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One would assume that the women would be brought up on prostitution charges, right? Decades ago, yes, but not this time. Many of the women and girls were not actually criminals, but rather they were victims. State Senator Teresa Fedor from Toledo investigated and found that many of the women and girls were victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the exploitation of one person by another for the purpose of subjugation to involuntary servitude, in this case for sexual activity.
Normally law and justice complement each other. However, in the case of human trafficking, they can be on a collision course. Previously, in an arrest similar to this one, law enforcement would identify the young woman or girl as a runaway or prostitute. This would result in identifying the girl as a criminal, not a victim, and she was treated accordingly. However, at the time of this incident, the FBI was more attuned to trafficking victims. The FBI, local authorities, advocacy groups and Fedor joined forces with noted expert Celia Williamson, professor of criminal justice and social work at the University of Toledo to remedy this collision.
A Trafficking in Persons Study Commission was created under Attorney General Richard Cordray in 2009. I had the opportunity to attend one of the commission work sessions. What I discovered was a group of concerned law enforcement, nonprofit, and government officials working on a bi-partisan effort to make sure that these individuals were not treated as criminals.
At the time of this incident, Ohio was behind many other states in the implementation of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. To remedy that, in 2010 (again sponsored by Fedor), Senate Bill 235 created the offense of trafficking in persons and made its violation a second-degree felony. Penalties were also increased for kidnapping for the purpose of involuntary servitude and compelling prostitution of minors.
The Human Trafficking Commission was reconvened by Attorney General Mike DeWine in August 2011.
Later, having moved to the House of Representatives, Fedor sponsored House Bill 262, the Safe Harbor Law, which was passed in 2012. Its main provisions were designed to assist victims in getting needed services, provide increased support to law enforcement, and toughen penalties on traffickers.
One of the most important aspects of this legislation was that the person being trafficked was viewed as a victim, instead of as a criminal.
Minors who were victims of trafficking were exempted from the crime of solicitation if the crime was coerced. It also increased trafficking in persons to a first degree felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10-15 years. For more on Ohio’s progressive actions, see the Ohio Attorney General’s Report on Human Trafficking.
Ultimately, these actions place the emphasis of the law on the people actually coercing the girls and women and the people creating the market for these services. This combination of advocacy, politics, law and academics is a prime example of how law can truly do justice to victims of human trafficking.
About the Author:
Dr. Christi Scott Bartman holds a Master of Public Administration from Troy State University, a JD from the University of Toledo College of Law and a PhD in Policy History from Bowling Green State University. She is currently an Associate Professor of Public Administration at APUS.