Ohio leaders are pointing to a new state law as a sign of progress made in the fight against human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking often are forced into the sex trade or pushed to work against their will in sweatshop-type jobs.
The crime was the focus of an awareness event Friday at the Statehouse. Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine spoke at the event.
Part of the event was aimed at helping social workers and attorneys learn about implementing the state's new law. The measure increases penalties for human trafficking and creates a fund to help victims.
Marlene Carson, who said that she spent 10 years as a forced prostitute, called human trafficking “America’s dirty little secret.”
“This is important to me, because as a minor child, I was taken and put into prostitution,” Carson said. “So, at this point, when I see these girls that are being taken now, it’s so important to me that we do something about it.”
Carson said that she spent her years as a prostitute trapped in a life that she did not want, terrorized by a pimp who would not let her go.
“Countless girls are knocking on these doors saying, ‘Please help me, let me in and get me out of these situations.’”
Democratic State Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo said that about 1,000 children are forced into the sex trade every year, and thousands more are at risk.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, particularly in the demand area,” Fedor said. “This is a demand-driven market. Everyone is learning that everyone is vulnerable.”
Fedor’s legislation, now law, describes girls and women being sold for sex as “victims,” not “criminals.”
The law also requires additional training for law enforcement and increased penalties for traffickers.
Michelle Jones, a student in the Columbus City School District, said that awareness now is reaching the district.
“Students have a really strong passion for human trafficking, because it could be anyone,” Jones said. “It could be your neighbor or best friend. So, you really take that to heart, because you want to make a difference.”
Jones and her mother Darlena are working to bring more experience to students.
The two hope to help bring an end to modern-day slavery.
“You see trouble, and you go to help,” Jones said. “That’s who we are. That’s what we want to do.”
Shared Hope International, which monitors human trafficking across the county, has given Ohio the grade of C after two years of D grades.
Fedor said that she plans to push for more legislation to help lead Ohio to an A.