A: Toledo, Ohio.
Other than Peoria, Illinois, I can’t think of a place more frequently thought of as “typically middle-American” than Ohio. Which makes the latest report about human trafficking even more disturbing. And it’s really fucking disturbing to begin with.
According to a study conducted in 2008 with the cooperation of state and federal law enforcement, state agencies, and led by researchers at the local university, Toledo (population 316,000; the metropolitan area more than doubles that figure) is the fourth largest hub in the United States for human trafficking–and the largest, on a per capita basis.
Although the researchers themselves admit that their numbers are soft, they indicate that close to 1100 young Ohioans and nearly 800 foreign citizens were victims of trafficking, either for sex or forced labor, last year. They also estimate more than 6,000 others were “at risk” of being victimized. I fear those numbers are low-balls. While the vast majority of trafficked people are women and girls, boys and young men, often gay, are targeted, as well as transgender people, undocumented workers, and others already at a disadvantage (I realize there’s overlap among these groups).
The study indicates that Toledo’s easy access to and from Canada, and its location at the convergence of a number of major highways, make it a natural “distribution” site for traffickers moving their merchandise throughout the nation.
Weak laws concerning trafficking compound the problem. Battery and solicitation charges are rarely pursued, except when prostituted women and children are arrested, of course. Ohio governor Ted Strickland signed an anti-trafficking bill into law last year, but thanks to opposition from the state’s Prosecuting Attorneys Association (why, WHY?), it doesn’t treat trafficking as a crime on its own, merely as a way to tack on penalties for those charged with “real” crimes, like selling drugs or producing child pornography. Supercalifragilisticexpialifuckme.
Toledo’s nasty reputation isn’t new news; the city was implicated in an interstate child prostitution ring back in 2005. I don’t know whether to hope that the data collected in the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study will lead to better laws–and better enforcement of current laws–to prevent this exploitation and care for those who have already been victimized.
If you’re an Ohioan, you might see what you can do to be part of the solution to this horrible state of affairs (donate, lobby, etc.). If you’re in the business of paying for sex, you might reconsider that practice. In any case, you might read up on the facts here (PDF).