COLUMBUS — A Democratic state lawmaker wants state law changed to protect more human trafficking victims.
Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) said Friday she will offer legislation to ensure 16- and 17-years-olds trapped in human trafficking don’t face prostitution charges but instead are provided with services to escape their captors.
“Children are not consenting to be victims, they’re not consenting to be voluntarily raped by whomever,” Fedor said during a midday press conference at the Statehouse. “… I’m going to extend the provisions of safe harbor, services rather than incarceration, first, and that’s our goal.”
Federal law already categorizes such individuals as victims.
“So why, under Ohio law, don’t we give them that same recognition?” said Maureen Guirguis, co-director of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law Human Trafficking Clinic. “… Sixteen- and 17-year-olds can’t vote in the state, they can’t walk into a bar, they can’t walk into a strip club, they can’t buy liquor, they can’t enter into a contract… But yet we’re saying that we can charge them with prostitution. It really defies logic.”
Fedor has spearheaded other changes in state law to increase criminal penalties against those who force women and men into sexual activities or labor for pay and to provide assistance to victims of the crime.
She was a primary sponsor of legislation several years ago that included law changes to treat juveniles charged with prostitution as victims rather than criminals, with a process for expunging related convictions from their records.
But the safe harbor provisions of that law only covered youth up to age 15. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds and those older who are being coerced into sex for pay still face potential prostitution charges.
Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon supports the law changes being proposed by Fedor.
“… We look at those children under the age of 18 who have been victimized… they are victims,” she said. “And it is our… responsibility to address those needs… to address those risky behaviors and the vulnerabilities that caused them to be victimized….”
Fedor announced the new legislation Friday alongside groups of teens from the Columbus and other areas that are working to combat human trafficking.
The youth were at the Statehouse for an annual human trafficking conference; the second day Friday was tabbed as the state’s first ever Ohio Youth Trafficking Prevention Summit.
“I need your help in passing this bill,” Fedor said. “… Our students are ready to be the strongest partners we have had in the state of Ohio to help get this done… We want to start a movement with our youth in the state of Ohio.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.