Practical Policy to Prevent Sex Trafficking and Heal Ohio’s Victims

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We’ve said before that the sex slave trade is alive in well in Ohio [read on OCR: “Ohio’s Slave Trade”].  Here is a marketplace report:

Ohio ranks 5th (worst) in the U.S. for human trafficking.

Over 88% of human trafficking in Ohio is for sex.

About 84% of victims are U.S. citizens.

Approximately 80% of victims are women or girls, and 50% are children.

And Ohio starts them young.  A 2010 report cited 13 years as the most common age of entry into sex trafficking.

Entry is only the beginning of their problems.  These children grow into adults—or rather, their bodies do.  Emotional maturity and life skills remain as they were at the age of entry.  Other problems may include drug and/or alcohol addiction, medical issues, mental health disorders such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from repeated beatings, lack of education, homelessness, and family and child welfare dependencies, to name just a few.

Despite the numerous complications associated with sex trafficking, victims often do not identify as “victims.”  They believe they’re making free will choices—that they’re just “bad apples.”  Society reinforces this belief by marginalizing, judging, and largely ignoring their “self-made” plight.

Choice, however, is defined as “the opportunity or power of choosing.”  How much opportunity or power does a young teenager truly have when lured into the sex industry?  Is it really her choice?  Her life goal?

How many children do you know who want to have sex with 10-15 strangers a night?

Whether victims lie to themselves or are truly brainwashed, it doesn’t change the reality that we have a sex trafficking problem in Ohio.

Recent research shows this is not only an inner city problem, or a curse of poor or dysfunctional families.  In Dayton, for instance, fewer than 20% of prostitutes surveyed came from “poor” families, and fewer than 10% were ever in the child welfare system.  Victims are being recruited from all socioeconomic classes, in almost all zip codes.  Currently 3,000 children in the state are identified as being “high” risk for entry into the sex industry.  That does not include the 1,078 reported cases of Ohio children being sold for sex every year.  This problem isn’t getting smaller, it is getting more prolific.

Directly addressing this problem in Ohio will be both expensive and time consuming.  But in the end doing so will be much less expensive than supporting this population into perpetuity. It requires a collaboration between state and local authorities, as well as the nonprofit community, to be fiscally sound.

Policy should address the before-during-after cycle of sex trafficking.

“Before” programs are educational in nature.  The goal is to prevent sex trafficking through education and awareness: teaching our communities what sex trafficking really is, what it looks like in the community (internet vs. street for instance), and how to avoid falling for the lure.  Our children must learn how to protect themselves from vulnerabilities and the recruitment process.  They need short, straightforward school or community programs, along the lines of DARE or any number of stranger danger briefings, designed specifically around trafficking.  For example, Be FREE Dayton has an extensive prevention program for kids, for adults who wish to keep the children in their lives safe, and for social justice-minded businesses that offer training to their employees.  Services are free and require a simple phone call for scheduling.  As Be FREE Dayton proves, a large majority of the education/prevention can be done by non-profits, which require rudimentary support from local officials to ensure all legal and moral standards are met.  This costs the taxpayer essentially nothing.

Policy for reaching victims “during” (or while being trafficked) again can be accomplished in large part by nonprofits.  Dayton’s Oasis House and Be FREE Dayton have organized a consistent street outreach program.  Essentially, prostitutes are given “resource” bags with a few personal items and a card.  The card has contact information for anyone willing to leave the life.  It is a “first step to freedom invitation.”  Oasis House also goes into jails and strip clubs with similar programs.  Once a woman takes the first step invitation, Oasis House designs a rehabilitation program for her own unique needs.  Since many are lured into the sex industry before their 14th birthday, they often need GED, computer literacy, reading, finance, and other classes.

The state can encourage participation in programs like the Oasis House by giving victims a choice when arrested–between jail and rehabilitation.

Working together, state and local non-profits like Be FREE Dayton, can design specific treatment and outreach to victims in their communities.  Again, the cost to taxpayers is minimal, mostly centered around the time officials spend planning and executing the policy.

In Dayton, the before and during steps are already in motion with local non-profits and with local law enforcement.  With organization, and policy directing continuity with the state and/or city, this model could be much more efficient.  Right now, if a sex trafficking victim wants out of the life, there is no long term, consistent place for them to go—nowhere to escape.

The final stage of policy needed concerns “aftercare.”  It’s expensive.  There is no getting around it.  However, there are ways to mitigate the financial burden carried by the taxpayer.

There is no quick fix.  Most victims have to be reacclimated to socially acceptable behavior.  Ideally, Ohio would establish at least 3-5 long-term residential facilities in a rural setting.  Research indicates the way for these victims to “get out of the life” and stay out successfully involves moving them from the location of victimization.  These facilities would look much like retirement campuses with secure dorms for new clients, and extended living dorms for those who “graduate” from them.  Secure dorms are necessary both for physical and psychological protection (if a trafficker comes for them) and to serve as a “safe place” for drug withdrawal.

Victims in the unsecured side of campus would work in community to maintain the property and on routine upkeep (kitchen, laundry, crops, soap making, etc.)  This would give them practical work experience to use later on job applications, while taking advantage of classes on finance, computer literacy, job skills, personal hygiene, etc., offered by not-for-profits.

The idea is to create a community, staffed mostly by volunteers and in a single location with state oversight, which offers opportunity for dignified re-education and integration into society.

We have the opportunity to get in front of this problem—to stop it in its tracks and be a model for the rest of the country.  We have an obligation to protect one of our greatest assets in this state, our children.

Or we can keep doing what we’re doing—sticking our fingers in the dam’s holes, watching as the number of sex-trafficked children in our state grows.

133_200_csupload_57607684Tonya Folks is the Development Director of Be FREE Dayton.  She helped establish Be FREE Dayton as a professional non-profit in the Miami Valley and is committed to abolishing sex trafficking in the region.  Tonya is a broadcast news journalist, grant writer, event coordinator, follower of Christ, mother, wife, and Master of Public Administration.

Related on OCR: “Ohio’s Slave Trade,” by Tonya Folks and Elizabeth Van Dine

Featured-Columnist1Michael Hamilton is the English Department Chair at Dayton Christian High School, where he teaches AP U.S. Government & Politics and Honors American Literature.  He is a graduate of Hillsdale College, the owner of Good Comma Editing, LLC, and the Executive Editor and a Co-Founder of OCR.  

Related on OCR: All articles by Michael Hamilton.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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