Fighting Human Trafficking
Human trafficking victim’s advocates say that the Buckeye State moved ahead one giant step last week when Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill first introduced a decade ago to combat the complex issues of trafficking.
“It’s about time,” said human trafficking survivor Jennifer Kempton.
The new law – the End Demand Act — is focused on the demand side of the prostitution equation. It increases the penalty for sex with minors to a felony, and puts the onus on the “john,” said State Rep. Teresa (D-Toledo), who sponsored the legislation. The measure also bans certain suggestive language from advertisements for massage services, among other things.
Fedor said that she first introduced legislation ten years ago, but that this measure finally starts to get to the heart of the problem, putting responsibility with the pimps and the johns.
“It’s simple economics: no demand equals no need for supply, and we’ve increased the penalties on the demand side, which is quite significant,” Fedor said. “In my opinion, it has turned the paradigm on how we think about this crime. And we now have a strong legal framework which is based on a victim-centered approach.”
Jennifer Kempton said she was drugged and addicted to drugs during her time as a prostitute, and tattooed with the name of her pimp and other unwanted reminders of the trauma. Now employed by the nonprofit caterer Freedom a la Cart, Kempton has moved on with her life.
The catering business gave her a job and a sort of family that would be there as she recovered and also help her gain the everyday skills of independence.
Her recovery has included founding Survivors Ink, another nonprofit organization that supplies grant money to remove or hide tattoos on other trafficking victims. The tattoos are used like brands to denote someone’s property.
“I found out I was labeled as property of my abuser, literally tattooed with ‘property of’ (and) a man’s name. I had that man’s name on my body a total of four times. I also had a gang-affiliation tattoo on my neck,” she said. “Someone very close to my (Salvation Army) advocate (paid) to have my tattoos covered up. That’s where the idea for Survivors Ink came in.”
Until recently, the penalty for purchasing sex from a minor was a third degree misdemeanor. She said that the problem is greater than many realized. The Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force estimates that roughly 1,000 Ohio children are trafficked each year.
Michelle Hannan of The Salvation Army Central Ohio is a member of the Salvation Army National Anti-Trafficking Council. She said that the central issue is a lack of awareness about who is victimized and how that reaches across the socio-economic spectrum, from young children to teenagers, including many LGBTQ teens. As laws change to protect the victims, the numbers of victims will increase with better reporting, she said.
“The numbers are going to continue to increase for some time,” Hannan said. “Because it has really been something that’s not a new crime; it’s been an awareness issue.”
- Teresa Fedor, Ohio State Representative
- Michelle Hannan, the Director of Professional and Community Services for The Salvation Army Central Ohio
- John Rush, the Executive Director of Freedom a la Cart
- Jennifer Kempton, a survivor and the coordinator of Survivors Ink
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).