COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state plans to speed up the help it provides victims of human trafficking including addictions treatment and shelter options, one of several priorities outlined in a new report released Monday.
The Ohio departments of Medicaid and of family services plan to work with county officials to reduce waiting times for victims for these services, the report said.
Ohio's progress fighting human trafficking is exciting and sobering, state anti-trafficking coordinator Elizabeth Ranade Janis said in her introduction to the report.
On the one hand, more victims have access to the criminal justice system and more offenders are being punished, she said. On the other hand, recent efforts confirm that more police investigations are needed to lock up traffickers and more services are needed for their victims.
"Helping victims to rebuild their lives as thriving survivors and pursuing their traffickers to the fullest extent of the law makes Ohio a safer state for all its citizens," Janis said.
Providing quick access to drug treatment is especially important for victims of sex trafficking, since their traffickers use drugs to control them, she said.
The state estimates about a thousand Ohio children are forced into the sex trade each year. Between July 2013 and April 2015, 135 cases of children and young adult victims of trafficking were identified, the task force report said. Most were girls between the ages of 13 and 18; 20 were under 13.
Other priorities announced Monday include making sure police have up-to-date information on tracking human trafficking and boosting public awareness about the issue.
Almost all of 26 recommendations to reduce human trafficking from three years ago have been adopted in some form, the report said.
Last year, the state announced plans for the Ohio Turnpike Commission to place awareness posters in its service plazas, with additional posters sent to about 730 Ohio libraries.
In 2012, the state enacted a law increasing penalties for human trafficking and creating a fund to help victims. The law made human trafficking a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That's tougher than the previous second-degree felony charge.
Victims of human trafficking are often forced into the sex trade or pushed to work against their will in sweatshop-type jobs.
The law also created a path for victims to have their records expunged if they have prostitution or solicitation charges as a result of being forced into the sex trade.