Some state legislators believe that coerced sex slavery could exist in Ohio because the state lacks a law specifically targeting human trafficking, even though federal law prohibits it, so they're working to fill in the gap.
"Human trafficking is far more serious than kidnapping,'' said Rep. Kathleen Chandler, D-Kent, who introduced a House bill targeting the issue. "It's modern-day slavery.''
There have been instances in Ohio:
Nearly four years ago, a Cleveland teenage girl was abducted at gunpoint downtown and driven to Detroit, where she was kept with other girls who were being forced to have sex with men in exchange for food and money.
Last year, federal authorities broke up a prostitution ring in Toledo that abused girls and young women smuggled into the United States. Near Cleveland in March, a police traffic stop found a driver and passengers, including a terrified 23-year-old woman, in a car that came from Mexico. The woman, disoriented and pregnant, told rape counselors through an interpreter that instead of finding her family, she was forced into prostitution.
Federal law prohibits human trafficking, and the U.S. Department of Justice has urged each state to make its own statute. Twenty-seven states have. Chandler's bill would require training for police to identify human trafficking.
A Senate proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Goodman, R-Columbus, has similar provisions. Both versions would make human trafficking a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes both bills, saying they could clash with existing laws that often are used to prosecute prostitution. State Rep. Louis Blessing, R-Cincinnati, who chairs the Judiciary Committee that would hear the House bill, agrees with the prosecutors group.
But Kathleen Davis, an advocate for a state law, said the existing statutes can cover only certain aspects of the crime, such as rape and assault. "But the biggest problem is we don't have a definition of human trafficking, and the pimps are smart. They know the law,'' she said.
Adapted from: "Legislators take on human trafficking." Associated Press. 31 March 2007.
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