AMANDA LEE MYERS
CINCINNATI — A federal grant announced Friday will allow two Ohio agencies fighting human trafficking to hire two new investigators and a victim advocate and pay for gaps in services for those rescued from the practice that has been likened to modern-day slavery.
The $700,000 in U.S. Justice Department grants will go to the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Salvation Army, which have partnered to combat human trafficking with two inseparable prongs — law enforcement and social services.
“People shouldn’t be exploited. People shouldn’t be sold in any capacity,” said Michelle Hannan, director of professional and community services for the Salvation Army in central Ohio. “This is something that has remained hidden for so long, and people have just had to endure the most unspeakable situations.”
Hannan and her agency began to focus on human trafficking in Ohio in 2007 after a national group identified Columbus and Cincinnati as being among 24 cities in the country with high risk factors for sex trafficking.
Both cities began their own coalitions targeting the problem that same year and have increased their efforts since then.
Hannan said that in the past year, her coalition has been working a lot more closely with law enforcement and the federal grant will strengthen and provide funding to that partnership.
“It’s really going to be amazing to have some of the resources to make a difference,” she said, adding that the funding also will go toward gaps in services for victims rescued from human trafficking.
That could include, for example, short-term emergency housing for a woman who has been forced into the sex trade, medical services and outreach into at-risk communities, Hannan said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement that he “can’t stress enough how serious of a problem human trafficking is in Ohio.”
“With this new partnership we aim to prevent traffickers from escaping notice by moving from one jurisdiction to another and improve the opportunities available for trafficking victims to get the help they need,” he said.
More than 1,000 Ohio children are trafficked every year, according to a 2010 report by the state Human Trafficking Commission, which cited weak laws in Ohio compared with other states and the state’s proximity to the Canadian border as driving factors.
Ohio lawmakers have since passed legislation known as the “safe harbor law,” which went into effect in June. The law makes human trafficking a first-degree felony with a mandatory prison term of 10 to 15 years. It also allows victims to sue their traffickers for damages and to have their records expunged if they were convicted of prostitution or solicitation charges as a result of being forced into the sex trade.