Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced this week two new efforts to combat human trafficking at a meeting of the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission in Columbus.
The first of two new initiatives will require the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to analyze the Ohio Missing Children Clearinghouse, a database of children who are or who have previously been missing in Ohio. These children, especially those who have be missing more than once, are greater targets for traffickers, according to DeWine.
The BCI will then communicate with local law enforcement agencies to alert them to at-risk youth to avoid already or potentially dangerous situations. In 22 cases last year, the underlying risk factor was identified as “runaway and homeless youth,” the 2016 Human Trafficking report said.
“It is my hope that law enforcement will then reach out to these children and intervene in their lives before a trafficker can,” DeWine said in a press release. “I believe that, by showing these children that Ohio’s law enforcement officers truly care, we can reduce the number of children who are victimized in Ohio.”
The second of the two initiatives is a $128,148 grant to Amethyst Inc., a group that provides housing to women and children recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. The group will provide 12 apartments for victims of human trafficking.
“Safe, stable housing is critically important for these victims because, without it, they may feel like they have no other options but to go back to their traffickers,” DeWine said. “Thanks to this grant, these women will not have to worry about where they will sleep at night, and they can fully concentrate on improving their lives.”
DeWine's grant will cover rent and utilities for 12 women from Franklin county who are referred to Amethyst by Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert’s Changing Actions to Change Habits Court, which helps female victims of crimes like prostitution who are defendants in cases before the court.
The largest underlying risk factor of human trafficking victims identified in the 2016 report is “drug/alcohol/other dependence,” appearing as the prominent risk factor in 67 cases.
The conference is held yearly to discuss the Human Trafficking Commission's annual report and its current initiatives. According to the 2016 annual report released Monday, there were 135 human trafficking investigations in the state that lead to 79 arrests and 28 convictions.
The number of arrests and convictions is down from 2015, which saw 104 arrests and 33 convictions. The number of investigations, however, was up in 2016 from 102 the previous year.
In Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Human Trafficking Task Force received more than 25 tips related to human trafficking leading to one conviction, two indictments and the rescue of a 15-year-old girl in downtown Cincinnati, according to the report.
One of DeWine’s areas of focus in 2016 was education. He required all law enforcement to receive one hour of Continuing Professional Training on human trafficking. DeWine said a new course will be released sometime in 2017.