Human trafficking is a very serious crime and one with which the state of Ohio in particular has a very poor track record. The state government recognizes this, however, which is why numerous task forces have been put into place, certain laws have been amended, and other laws and acts have been instated.
In the crime of human trafficking, one or several individuals are exploited and controlled for the profit of others. Victims are often children, who are sold and used in the sex industry. However, adults can also become victims, being coerced and forced into performing commercial sex acts. Furthermore, human trafficking does not have to involve sexual acts, although it often does, as any type of forced labor is classed as human trafficking.
Cases of human trafficking are rising all over the country, and legislators are trying to address this. Very stringent federal laws exist, and if any individual was taken across state lines, the perpetrators will be charged under federal laws. However, a lot of states are also taking initiatives to improve human trafficking laws and penalties, one of which is Ohio.
Laws and Penalties
Ohio has covered human trafficking under ORC 2905.32. However, as it became clear that the state continued to have above average incidents of human trafficking, and because insufficient support was in place for victims, the state also passed HB 262, or the Safe Harbor Law.
The Safe Harbor Law increased the penalty for human trafficking, classifying it as a first degree felony. This means that a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years is attached to it. Furthermore, if sexual acts were involved in the trafficking at any point, including sale into the sex industry, those found guilty must register as a Tier II sex offender, for which all adult traffickers must register. This also means that they cannot live within 1,000 feet of any school.
Furthermore, the Safe Harbor Act has added obstruction of justice to the crime, which is classified as a 2nd degree felony. This means that separate penalties can be raised for this element as well. Most judges will make the penalties run concurrently.
Importantly, the Safe Harbor Act has provided greater protection for victims. Also, a diversion program has been put into place for juvenile human trafficking victims. A judge can sentence people to the diversion in order to receive both the treatment and protection they require, using the juvenile justice system for this. Minors who had prior convictions of solicitation or prostitution may find their convictions expunged. Victims are also allowed to pursue civil damages against their trafficker or pimp.
Ohio law enforcement is fully on board with the Safe Harbor Act. The Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy now has mandated training in human trafficking. All local law enforcement officers have to report every year the number of human trafficking cases that they have worked with.
Human Trafficking Defenses
There are very few defenses against human trafficking. Usually, defendants are picked up during sting operations, and proof of their illegal actions is quite clear to see. As such, most defense attorneys will recommend a guilty plea in an attempt to lower sentence and, if possible, take a plea deal.
That being said, attorneys have raised a significant difficulty where some defendants are classed as ‘marginal players’. Human trafficking rings usually include a large range of different people, each of which played a different role in the overall crime. Some of these people may not even have been aware of the fact that they were assisting in human trafficking. There is, for example, a big difference between the people who physically restrain a person in the home, and those who run an advertising company or car service and are unaware of the fact that they had a role to play in the operation.
As such, defense attorneys will often try to focus on diminished liability. They will try to show that the defendants lacked the intent to commit human trafficking and that they were unaware of the setting they were in. If proven, they are classed as marginal players.
Statute of Limitations
In 2013, Ohio changed its statute of limitations for human trafficking, extending it from six to 20 years.
Human Trafficking Cases
- More than 100 Ohio human trafficking investigations in 2015
- Three indicted in southeast Columbus human trafficking case
- Husband, wife among 3 indicted on human trafficking charges
- Ohio sex trafficking numbers among highest in the nation
- Guatemalan national orchestrated large human-trafficking ring in Ohio