An examination of the types of human trafficking occurring in two of Ohio’s largest cities found that child prostitution is more common in Toledo while forced labor is more likely to be identified in Columbus, according to a new RAND Corporation report.
There were at least 15 cases of human trafficking in the two cities from January 2003 through June 2006, according to the study undertaken to provide a baseline for the extent of human trafficking in Ohio. The 10 trafficking cases in Toledo all involved child prostitution while the five cases in Columbus involved forced labor of noncitizens.
“The incidence of human trafficking appears small compared to other crimes. Still, we know relatively little about it,” said Jeremy Wilson, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “We conducted this study to provide a better picture of the extent and nature of human trafficking in these two urban centers.”
Human trafficking involves using force, fraud, or coercion to induce someone to conduct a commercial sex act or to perform labor. If the victim is under age 18, force, fraud, or coercion do not need to accompany the inducement for a commercial sex act. While concerns have been growing both nationally and internationally about trafficking, researchers say it’s a crime that ultimately must be identified at the local level.
The RAND study found differences between Toledo and Columbus in the way officials regard juvenile sex trafficking. In Columbus, there was little awareness that human trafficking could involve juveniles engaging in prostitution where adults benefit financially. In Toledo, awareness of such trafficking was high, at least in part because of several high-profile criminal cases involving teens forced into prostitution and the existence of a task force focused on the problem.
The lack of awareness in Columbus increases the chance that human trafficking victims could be treated as criminals and may explain in part the lack of identified human trafficking cases involving prostitution in the city, according to the report.
“Human trafficking tends to be a clandestine crime where the victims can be hard to find,” Wilson said. “The more people are aware of the problem, the more they are likely to see evidence of it occurring.”
In both Toledo and Columbus, Wilson and study co-author Erin Dalton found a disconnection between the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, a shortcoming that may hinder the identification and prosecution of juvenile sex trafficking cases.
While the relatively small number of human trafficking cases means the response to the crime must be considered carefully, more can be done to combat the crime, according to researchers.
Education and training for first responders such as law enforcement, health, and social service officials could be expanded to improve awareness of the crime and the appropriate responses, according to the RAND report. In addition, programs for victims could be improved and collaboration among law enforcement and social service agencies could be expanded.
The study was sponsored by the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services through a grant to the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police in an effort to help provide a baseline of the incidence and characteristics of human trafficking, and evaluate how criminal justice and social service agencies respond to the crime.
Researchers reviewed newspaper records and interviewed officials from criminal justice and social service agencies in both Toledo and Columbus to document known cases of trafficking and to understand the local response to the crime.
The study was conducted by the RAND Safety and Justice Program, which conducts public policy research on corrections, policing, public safety and occupational safety.