Human trafficking stories like the one of a woman forced to work for a cult in several cities including in Dayton are the reason Steve Dettelbach said he’s put forward a nine-point plan to combat modern-day slavery.
Dettelbach, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor, is running for Ohio attorney general against Republican Dave Yost, the state auditor.
In an exclusive interview Monday with this news outlet, Dettelbach stressed the need for citizens to help identify human trafficking and outlined his strategy to strengthen the state’s laws.
“This is a horrible problem everywhere, but it is a bad problem in Ohio,” Dettelbach said. “It hides in plain sight all over the state, in cities, in rural areas.”
Dettelbach said that as a young prosecutor for the Justice Department, he prosecuted what was then the largest trafficking case in the country when he convicted the operators of a California sweatshop for illegally smuggling 70 Thai women into the country and using them as slaves.
As the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Dettelbach said his team set up task forces and convicted more than 40 defendants.
Dayton-area local and federal law enforcement agencies said they didn’t know Kendra Ross was trafficked by the United Nation of Islam (UNOI, now known as Value Creators) and that she was forced to work up to 17 unpaid hours per day at the Food for Life Supreme restaurant on Siebenthaler Avenue.
“We need the general public (to help),” Dettelbach said. “People work in restaurants. People work in motels. People work in fields that people drive by in the car, in massage parlors, in nail parlors, in our local dry cleaners. Whatever it is, if people speak up we will be able to really push back on this crime.”
The main points of Dettelbach’s plan:
1. Toughen the penalties for soliciting sex with minors. He says Ohio’s penalties for people who pay for sex with minors are too weak, especially against repeat offenders.
2. Crack down on child pornography. He says research shows nearly half of sex trafficking victims are forced to make pornography.
3. Expand access to emergency housing and other services for sex trafficking survivors. He’s calling for better support and funding for Ohio non-profits to strengthen our response for victims, particularly children.
4. Expressly ban using the internet to sell minors for sex. He says the law is behind technology and his plan calls for selling minors on the internet a second-degree felony for a first offense.
5. Outlaw sex trafficking of 16- and 17-year-olds under any circumstances. He supports current proposed legislation eliminating requirements of the law for proof of “force, fraud, or coercion.”
6. Close legal loopholes for pimps of children because Ohio law does not expressly prohibit pimps who sell minors for sex from claiming the child “consented” as a legal defense.
7. Penalize businesses and individuals who profit from sex trafficking, including smugglers, illegal massage parlors and others who knowingly provide transportation, lodging or other services that help traffickers.
8. Ban child-sex tourism at high-profile events like political conventions and sporting events, which he said Ohio’s law currently doesn’t do.
9. Work with county prosecutors and local law enforcement to establish additional Human Trafficking Task Forces like those in Toledo and Cleveland to cover Ohio.
“I have seen these children, sometimes, and young women and young men sit (on the witness stand) and prove that they were the ones who were stronger,” Dettelbach said. “And if they can stand up for themselves after what they have gone through, you better believe we need to fight and stand up for them as a state.”