By: AJ Crow
Edited by: Emilee Kain
“A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, quoting the great Martin Luther King Jr. at a press release in October of 2020 (Knight).
In this press release, the Office of the Ohio Attorney General detailed the goals of their campaign against human trafficking, dubbed “Operation Autumn Hope”, a month-long, multi-agency operation intended to take on the ongoing threat of human trafficking within the state of Ohio. According to the news release, the joint operation had just four primary goals:
Rescuing human trafficking victims.
Recovering missing and exploited children.
Apprehending those looking to have sex with a minor.
Arresting those looking to buy sex with a minor (Culver).
The operation, coordinated by the attorney general’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, was comprised of more than 50 law enforcement agencies and other organizations as part of a mission to bring an end to sex trafficking across the state (Culver).
The culmination of this well-coordinated operation brought forth 177 arrests and the rescue of 109 human trafficking survivors (Knight). The majority of these arrests occurred in the Toledo, Cleveland, and Columbus areas. In the three counties that house those cities, 157 arrests were made (Knight).
The success of “Operation Autumn Hope” made it the largest human trafficking sting in Ohio history. And while there is no doubt that the arrest numbers are beyond impressive, Ohio Attorney General Yost said that “the success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil” (Knight).
After the news of “Operation Autumn Hope” broke, many Ohioans were left with questions about just how prominent the illegal trade of human beings is in their state.
According to a study on human trafficking in Ohio conducted by the University of Cincinnati's School of Criminal Justice in 2019, Ohio reported the fifth-highest number of human trafficking cases to the Human Trafficking Hotline compared to other states in America. To be precise, the study revealed that between 2014 and 2016, there were 1,032 victims of human trafficking and 4,309 people who were at risk for human trafficking in Ohio alone (Johnson et al.).
One of the main reasons Ohio boasts such large numbers of human trafficking cases is because of its ideal location and, for lack of a better term, amenities for human traffickers. More specifically, Ohio has large urban centers, rural counties, and a large transient and immigrant population. These factors, combined with Ohio’s five major highways that provide easy access to other states and Canada, supply human traffickers with the perfect front for their illegal dealings (Johnson et al.).
So how is Ohio dealing with this widespread issue?
In January of 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed an order to expand the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to combat human trafficking in the state. DeWine announced that formulating a plan to tackle human trafficking in the state will be a top priority of his administration in the coming year (WLWT).
The Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force should continue its efforts to prevent human trafficking and identify survivors, the governor said in his order. DeWine also wants the task force to partner with local anti-trafficking coalitions, law enforcement task forces, courts, and federal partners to "build a more coordinated and holistic state-level response to the crime of human trafficking." (WLWT). The task force has 120 days to establish its 2021-22 priorities, meet with agency directors, evaluate current policy to identify any barriers to identifying survivors of human trafficking, and collaborate with the governor's initiatives, according to DeWine’s order (WLWT).
Aside from efforts by inter-agency task forces, the Ohio government has also urged the public to help aid in the cause. The Office of the Ohio Attorney General said, “the Attorney General’s Office cannot fight this problem alone. To stop those preying on Ohio’s vulnerable populations, we urge Ohioans to report any information they have about human trafficking or any suspicious activity they come across” (Human Trafficking Initiative).
With the help of all Ohioans - agents of the law and citizens alike - Attorney General Dave Yost says there is hope for “[a] day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio.” (Knight).
Culver, Jordan. “'Rescued from This Evil': 179 Arrested, 45 Missing Children Recovered in Ohio's 'Operation Autumn Hope'.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 27 Oct. 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/26/operation-autumn-hope-45-missing-children-ohio-179-arrests/6049990002/.
“Human Trafficking Initiative.” Human Trafficking Initiative - Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General, www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/HumanTrafficking.
Johnson, Christen, et al. “Yes, Virginia—Sex & Human Trafficking Are Problems in Ohio.” The Ohio Family Physician, 2015, medicine.wright.edu/sites/medicine.wright.edu/files/uploads/0/article/Human-Trafficking-Problems-in-Ohio.pdf.
Knight, Cameron. “177 Arrested in Largest Human Trafficking Sting in Ohio History.” The Enquirer, Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Oct. 2020, www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/10/26/177-arrested-largest-human-trafficking-sting-ohio-history/6041197002/.
ODH. “Human Trafficking Resources.” Ohio Department of Health, 10 Feb. 2020, odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/know-our-programs/sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence-prevention-program/human-trafficking.
WLWT Digital Staff. “Gov. DeWine Signs Order to Expand Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.” WLWT, 29 Jan. 2021, www.wlwt.com/article/gov-dewine-signs-order-to-expand-ohio-human-trafficking-task-force/35367368.