Portman fights trafficking

To help battle the scourge of sex trafficking of children, a U.S. legislator proposed an amendment which has bipartisan support to make these victims eligible for grants to receive counseling, medical attention, legal representation and other services.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio,

along with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, proposed Thursday an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that would provide services to child victims of “domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking” as well as victims of child sex trafficking.

“There is an interest in this across party lines, across philosophical lines because this is about something much more fundamental — this is about respecting and protecting human dignity,” Portman said. “In Ohio, unfortunately this is a significant issue. Toledo, in fact, is one of the highest in the nation in regard to the number of arrests, investigations and rescues of domestic sex trafficking victims.

“In this legislation, there is specific section that deals with children and we want to be sure that section includes sex trafficking among other violations,” the senator said. “I think this will have strong bipartisan support as part of the underlying bill and I expect the bill to pass as well.”

This amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 is entitled “Creating Hope through Outreach, Option, Services, and Education for Children and Youth.”

Portman said the need for the amendment was brought to his attention by people in northwest Ohio, including Dr. Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo social worker, who is now considered a national expert on the topic.

According to reports from the U.S. State Department, human trafficking occurs in every state in the nation. Among the thousands of cases opened by the U.S. Department of Justice between 2008 and 2010, 83 percent of the victims were U.S. citizens.

Additionally, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, 100,000 to 200,000 of the sex workers across the United States are trafficked children.

In 2009, the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission estimated nearly 3,000 American-born youth in Ohio were at risk for sex trafficking or prostitution.

The 2012 Human Trafficking Commission Report surveyed more than 300 Ohio youth victims of sex trafficking.  The report found that 40 percent were also victims of sexual abuse.  Forty-seven percent of victims surveyed confirmed that they had been raped more than a year before being trafficked.   

Efforts to combat human trafficking exist in nearly every metropolitan community in Ohio.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine have identified human trafficking as a key policy initiative, and there are a growing number of non-profit and religious organizations focused on ending human trafficking in Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinnati, including the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Portman and Blumenthal launched a Senate caucus on the matter and legislation to combat the crime in November.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery — a horrific crime that occurs across the world and the nation,” Blumenthal said. “According to anti-trafficking groups, 27 million people are held captive in human trafficking networks around the world, and approximately 17,000 of them cross the border into the U.S. every year.

“Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and fails to adequately prevent or punish such abuses — particularly as it relates to government contracting overseas,” he said. “I look forward to working with Senator Portman on this issue.”