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Ohio Attorney General Hosts Second Human Trafficking Summit

Screen shot of Attorney General Dave Yost speaking at the 2021 human trafficking summit.
Screen shot of Attorney General Dave Yost speaking at the 2021 human trafficking summit.

Several sessions dealt with the myths and misinformation circulating about human trafficking.

The office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost hosted its second annual summit on human trafficking on Thursday. The virtual workshops covered a wide range of anti-trafficking work in Ohio, from resources for rural communities to specialized courts for juvenile trafficking survivors. Speakers included representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, emergency medical providers, and survivors of sex trafficking.

Several sessions dealt with the myths and misinformation circulating about human trafficking, including viral social media hoaxes and outsized fears about abductions by strangers, which are rare.

“I think a lot of times people may think of “Taken,” or being snatched, or white vans, or being followed in the mall,” said Emily Billman, anti-human trafficking coordinator with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. “The reality of trafficking, it’s relationship building, it’s coercion, it’s seeking trust with a person and seeking out those vulnerabilities.”

Some presenters at the conference offered critiques of the anti-trafficking movement itself. Speakers pointed out a lack of focus on labor trafficking, and the history of racism in the movement.

Dr. Celia Williamson is the Executive Director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo. She spoke about the limits of simply raising awareness on the issue, and how the field needs to put more focus on other forms of prevention.

“We’ve been continually putting out this message that anybody can be trafficked,” she said. “But that really assumes that everyone is at equal risk, but everyone is not at equal risk.”

She said those at higher risk include marginalized populations, like racial minorities and LGBTQ populations, as well as people who have had contact with the criminal justice system or the child welfare system. Emphasizing the idea that anybody can be trafficked draws resources away from the most vulnerable communities, she said.

Yost has made human trafficking a priority in his administration. His office has coordinated several sting operations leading to hundreds of arrests.

At the summit Yost said his office helped draft the recently passed House Bill 431, which increased the penalty and maximum fine for buyers of sex. He told attendees the passage of the bill was a “significant victory.”

“This legislation provides us with an important new tool to attack the demand side of sexual servitude, the johns who make human trafficking possible,” he said.