Several hundred people crowded into the Statehouse atrium Thursday for the fifth annual event on Ohio’s role in human trafficking, but the number of men were islands in a sea of women.
Still, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) was encouraged by the fact that there were more than last year.
“They’re part of the solution,” she said. “We know that the average age of someone first buying commercial sex is 23. We know that the average age of someone who’s really into using is middle-aged. In order to really curb this crime, we really have to have the demand decreased. It just can’t be done through law.”
House Bill 130, sponsored by Ms. Fedor, passed the Ohio House in June and is expected to get its first hearing next week in the Senate. Among other things, it would toughen penalties for “johns” who pay for sex with minors, regardless of whether they knew they were underage.
“We need to stir men up,” said Nick Lembo, a pastor and board member of the Defenders USA, a Washington state-based organization that has rallied at truck stops and plans to picket at the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix to educate men to the fact that they are the primary fuel of this fire.
“We are systemic to the issue, but we are also systemic to the answer,” he said.
Defenders USA noted that “johns” arrested for soliciting minors often plea-bargain their cases down to minor offenses, serve little or no jail time, and are not required to register as sex offenders.
“You can have the best laws in the world against trafficking, but if it’s only a law on the shelf, it isn’t going to do much,” said Vern Smith, the Defenders USA founder.
The conference coincided with the unveiling of a new public awareness program by Gov. John Kasich’s administration to alert Ohioans that modern-day slavery is occurring in their midst. A poster, mandated under a 2012 law, features a close-up of a young girl’s face, one that has appeared on other states’ posters, and the words “Sold for Sex…Make it Stop.”
It will appear on billboards, toll booths, and buses and in turnpike service plazas, libraries, soup kitchens, and media.
The annual Human Awareness Day event gathers players from the streets to the halls of Congress to share ideas on how to battle what is estimated to be a $36 billion-a-year, tax-free industry globally, $10 billion in the United States.
The focus on modern-day slavery will continue today at 7 p.m. with a prayer service at the Historic Church of St. Patrick at 130 Avondale Ave. in Toledo as part of a National Weekend of Prayer to End Slavery and Trafficking.
The event, which will include a lit candle representing trafficking victims on every continent, is planned by the advocacy group STOP!, or Stop Trafficking of Persons. The organization was formed in 2006 by four women’s religious communities— the Sylvania and Tiffin Franciscans and the Notre Dame and Ursuline Sisters.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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