The latest battlefront in sex trafficking isn’t on the streets or in a massage parlor, but on social media.
Young girls are lured by sex traffickers who contact them on social-media sites such as Facebook by using a few taps of the keyboard on a laptop computer, a tablet or a cellphone.
Girls might be invited to parties, to meet at the mall, or just to become friends. But the friendship sometimes becomes a trap when girls are forced into providing sex-for-sale, often with a dozen or more men a night.
Judge Paul M. Herbert of Franklin County Municipal Court said yesterday at a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum on human trafficking that in his court, police are more often seeking search warrants to access social media on computers and cellphones.
“If you have daughters, talk to them. Get them some education,” Herbert urged. “You can’t believe what happens on social media and how vulnerable they are. ... Once it starts, it’s devastating.
“It can do downhill for a 14-year-old pretty fast,” he said.
Herbert runs the CATCH court, an acronym for Changing Actions To Change Habits. Most defendants in Herbert’s court are women caught up in prostitution. Herbert wants the courts and law enforcement to view them as victims rather than criminals because most were pushed into sex trafficking by the threat of force or the lure of drugs.
For every 1,000 women arrested on prostitution-related charges, only 10 men are arrested, even though the men are involved as “buyers” in almost every case, he said.
Herbert was joined at the forum by Attorney General Mike DeWine and Michelle Hannan, director of professional and community services for the Salvation Army, an organization that has long been involved in helping human-trafficking victims.
A study released last year estimated that at least 1,000 juveniles are being trafficked in Ohio, and thousands more are at risk.
Hannan stunned many in the audience when she said that 12 to 14 is the average age that girls get lured into prostitution. While traffickers can reap $500 to $1,000 a night from each girl, she might get “a trip to McDonald’s or get her nails done,” Hannan said.
DeWine said sex-trafficking cases are difficult to investigate and even harder to prosecute, in part because the women are fearful and often don’t want to implicate their traffickers.
“We’ve come a long way, but we can’t be happy where we are,” DeWine said.
The Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition operates a 24-hour hot line for victims: 614-285-4357.
Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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