Within a 30-minute walk of downtown Wapakoneta, an Ohio professor says someone within that radius is involved in or has been affected by human trafficking.
With an extensive highway system, a high number of truck stops, close proximity to Canada and a high poverty rate, Ohio is one of the most vulnerable states in the United States for human trafficking, University of Dayton political science professor Anthony Talbott said Sunday during an hour-long presentation on human trafficking at the St. Joseph Parish Life Center.
“There are more people being bought and sold at this moment than in the entire 300-year history of the Atlantic slave trade,” Talbott said in
his opening. “Human trafficking is the modern day slave trade.”
More than 27 million people are currently enslaved including more than 200,000 people in the United States. He defined human trafficking as “human beings — mostly women and children — who are forced, tricked or threatened into situations where they work for little or no pay and are unable to leave. Their labor and bodies are exploited for another’s profit.”
Talbott explained they are often subjected to physical, psychological and spiritual abuse which leaves them scarred for life, if they survive the ordeal.
The average person in the United States involved in sex trafficking starts between 12 and 14 years of age, with the average age in Ohio being 13. They have a life expectancy of seven years due to the dangers and abuse they face from their customers and managers or pimps, as well as diseases contracted through actual prostitution.
At present, people deal in human trafficking, which could be for labor or for sex, is because it is low risk and highly profitable as opposed to drug trafficking. There is an endless supply of people and they can work day and night while selling drugs stops until more can be purchased to be resold. It is a $32 billion to $35 billion business.
While law enforcement can use drugs as evidence during a raid, a conviction in human trafficking is more complicated.
“You need witness testimony to get a conviction and the victim is unlikely to testify so they are very difficult cases to convict,” Talbott said. “The risk of being investigated, being caught and being convicted is low. It is a high-reward, low-risk venture.”
In the United States, Toledo is the No. 1 per capital in recruiting traffickers and No. 4 in arrests and investigations. There are 1,078 American-born Ohio youth trafficked into sex trade within the past year and nearly 3,000 American-born Ohio at risk to be trafficked into sex trade.
Talbott explained while in the world, most people are trafficked for labor purposes, in the United States 50 percent are trafficked for labor and 50 percent for prostitution.
In Ohio, a shift has occurred in the past three years to combat the problem. Every law enforcement officer has been trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking because it is so prevalent in Ohio.
A shift in laws — penalties and ease of conviction — has lifted Ohio from one of the worst 12 states in the nation to the top 10. An amendment to the budget bill, which passed the Ohio House and is currently in the Senate, would make laws in the state even stricter.
Part of the response is to shift criminal negligence to the person paying for sex if the prostitute is a minor rather than laws only placing blame on the prostitute.
A U.S. law — the Protect Act — went into effect in 2006 which makes it illegal for a U.S. citizen to engage in sex with a minor on foreign soil. The person is to be extradited to the United States where they face as many as 30 years in prison.
Talbott ended his discussion with ways to combat human trafficking, which he described as a highly profitable business model.
“We have to think about what different components of that business model are and intervene in that business model and attack the different components of that business model,” Talbott said, examining the supply and demand dynamics. “No. 1 is supply. This is something Catholic social thought and the church has been working on for generations. We work for social justice. If we eliminate all poverty and have total equality and total justice then there will not be any more human trafficking. We reduce the number of vulnerable people.”
He said they need to education and outreach.
“You also have to decrease the incentives for the wholesalers — you have increase their risk and lower their reward,” Talbott said. “So you decrease demand so there is less incentive there and you increase penalties and enforcement.
“You have to increase their cost of doing business,” he said. “You have to increase the cost of retailing ... increase their penalties, reduce their demand and increase public awareness.”