Ohio’s battle against the scourge of human trafficking shifts to the “johns” fueling the market for sex with minors and massage parlors that front for prostitution under a bill likely to reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk this week.
The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 130, sponsored by Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), and the House is expected to approve the Senate changes today.
Other recent legislation targeted penalties for the traffickers themselves and shifted the state’s focus from treating minors in the sex trade as prostitutes to treating them as victims.
This latest bill increases criminal penalties for those who buy their services. It eases the burden of proof in prosecuting traffickers who sell the services of minors under the age of 16.
It also cracks down on advertising of massage services that hint at sexual activity.
The bill passed the Senate on the same day that the House approved a resolution commiserating with the more than 200 girls kidnapped in Nigeria in April.
“Human trafficking is coming to its full awareness around the world, and what a diabolical crime it is,” Ms. Fedor said after the Senate vote. “The fact that they would use young women, children, and threaten to put them in the labor or commercial sex trade is shocking us into action.”
Among the initial hold-ups with the bill was the question of whether Ohio should impose lesser penalties and a greater burden of proof whenever the minor hired or trafficked is 16 or older. Federal law makes no distinction.
In Ohio the penalty for someone hiring a child who is 15 or younger would be a third-degree felony, carrying a prison sentence of up to five years, up from a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days. A prosecutor would also not have to prove that the trafficker selling the minor’s services used coercion, force, or fraud.
But the penalty for cases involving 16 or 17-year-olds would be a lesser fifth-degree felony, carrying up to a year in jail, also up from a third-degree misdemeanor. The prosecutor would need to prove the elements of force to make the case against the trafficker.
“In Ohio age 16 is the age at which consensual sex is permitted,” said Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati). “... On the one hand, they’re old enough to consent at age 16 and 17. On the other hand, they’re still juveniles, so we’re trying to strike the right balance with the right increase in penalties.”
The bill would also:
• Remove the names of minor trafficking victims from police records even if they have their own criminal records.
• Make it easier to terminate parental rights when the parent trafficks his or her own child.
• Extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting trafficking from six years to 20 years when the perpetrator — such as a parent, police officer, or cleric — has authority over the child.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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