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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | What is human trafficking's impact on the U.S., Ohio?

A writer reminded me that slavery, in the form of human trafficking, continues to cast a dark shadow across the United States. And Ohio ranks third in per-capita incidents and fifth in arrests.
Attorney David Betras

In last week’s column, I broached the sensitive topic of critical race theory and the ways in which institutional racism, including slavery which ended in 1865, influences our laws and culture to this day.

I received a number of phone calls, texts, and emails about the piece. Some were complimentary, some were thoughtful and some profane — which should come as no surprise at a time when our national discourse has grown increasingly coarse.

One email was particularly thought-provoking, however, because the writer reminded me that slavery, in the form of human trafficking, continues to cast a dark and disturbing shadow across the United States. 

It is estimated that as many as 40 million people are enslaved across the globe, including hundreds of thousands here in the U.S. which shares the dubious distinction of being one of the top three nations in the world for human trafficking with Mexico and the Philippines. 

And Ohio has a dubious distinction of its own: We rank third in per-capita trafficking incidents and fifth in arrests.

The human toll exacted by trafficking on those working in the sex trade or as laborers is shocking and depressing. It is estimated that between 15,000 to 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery in the U.S. every year and that the total number is between 240,000 and 350,000. 

More than 98% of trafficking victims are women and girls who, on average. are 15-years-old and are sold for sex more than five times per day. Perhaps most distressing of all, less than 1 percent of them survive the ordeal or ever return home. A recent study shows the average lifespan of victims is 7 to 10 years after they were first trafficked.

While human trafficking occasionally attracts media attention, the evil enterprise is shrouded in misinformation and misconceptions. For example, many people equate sex trafficking with prostitution, but the two are very different. 

Trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, violence and intimidation; prostitution does not. Mention trafficking to most people and they think of marauding bands snatching victims off streets or from villages and cramming them into vans. In fact, traffickers are sadistic, skillful manipulators who prey on substance abusers, immigrants, runaways, homeless persons, the mentally ill and teenage girls via the internet. 

Trafficking victims often suffer life-altering and in some cases, life-ending effects. Slave laborers are forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions without proper protective equipment. Sex workers are exposed to STDs and other infections, as well as mental and physical abuse at the hands of both traffickers and johns. They often experience serious mental health risks including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, cognitive impairment, memory loss, depression and suicide. 

Because the impact of trafficking is so horrific, state and federal penalties for the offense are severe. Persons convicted in Ohio face a mandatory 10-year jail sentence and must register as sex offenders. 

The Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, first passed in 2000 and strengthened numerous times since, imposes penalties up to and including life in prison. That means anyone from a gang that engages in a criminal conspiracy to a single person who drives a young girl to a hotel to have sex with a man who solicited her online, can face decades behind bars.

Which is exactly where they belong.

To learn more about trafficking and what we can all do to end the modern-day slave trade please visit the DeliverFund and the Polaris Project

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to

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