Bill targets human trafficking

WARREN – Area officials are continuing the fight against human trafficking in the Mahoning Valley.

More than a year after eight Warren massage parlors were raided by state authorities and subsequently closed by the city, leaders of the North East Ohio Coalition on Rescue and Restore gathered at the former site of the Gemini Health Spa in Warren to discuss the current state of anti-human trafficking efforts.

NEOCORR officials were joined by state Rep. Tom Letson and state Sens. Joe Schiavoni and Capri Cafaro, who discussed the current human trafficking bill, Ohio House Bill 130, which has until the end of the month to be passed before the Ohio legislature goes on summer recess.

The bill would extend the period during which a prosecution for human trafficking must begin from six to 20 years as well as allow additional measures to protect the victims of human trafficking, including allowing the victims to testify via a closed-circuit television.

“Not victimizing the victims is the thrust of this, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Letson said.

Cafaro said the idea is to get victims to come forward without fear as well as to prosecute the perpetrators of the crime to the fullest extent of the law. She stressed the importance of working with local law enforcement as well as employing the “if you see something, say something” motto.

Cafaro recently reported suspicious activity at a local nail salon, but wouldn’t disclose the name or location of the business.

“This isn’t just about the sex trafficking. It’s also about labor trafficking … it’s not just an international clientelle that’s being trafficked,” she said, citing restaurants and farms as potential offenders, and the importance of being able to spot suspicious activity.

Letson said many times, large groups of people are brought to the area and are not paid a living wage for their work or are told by their employer that they owe them for transportation and other expenses.

“It’s a debt that they can never pay off,” he said.

“It’s a complex issue. Human trafficking affects more domestic women and citizens than it does internationally. It’s not just in large cities … it’s going on all around the country,” Schiavoni said.

Letson said the trafficking problem in the Mahoning Valley is largely due to what he called a fortuitous mixture of roadways and exits at crossroads, which actually benefit area manufacturing.

“It’s easy on, easy off. Nobody will know I’ve been here, and I’m an hour away from home,” he said.

Letson also warned of the susceptibility of young people to being groomed into human trafficking without realizing it until it’s too late.

“A young man will woo a girl for months,” he said, or a young woman may be approached about a potential modeling job and move out of the state only to find herself the victim of prostitution a month later. “They just don’t know they’re being groomed,” he said.