Human Trafficking Exists in Every Ohio ZIP Code

Human trafficking is all over the news lately. What is it?  
A: Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons (TIP), is a form of modern-day slavery in which profit is made from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under Ohio and federal law, victims of human trafficking include:
  • Children involved in the sex trade;
  • Adults age 18 or over who are coerced, manipulated or deceived into performing commercial sex acts; and
  • Anyone forced into different forms of “labor” or “services,” such as domestic workers or farm-workers forced to work against their will.

Each of these situations has one or more of the following in common:
  • Elements of force, including physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse;
  • Fraud; and
  • Compulsion or coercive control that, much as in the case of victims of domestic abuse, often involves emotional and mental manipulation, although it does not always involve violence. The Ohio Trafficking in Persons statute requires only that a victim’s will be “overcome by force, fear, duress or intimidation.”
Q: How does human trafficking affect me in Ohio? Doesn’t this mostly happen in foreign countries?
A: Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for human trafficking. Unlike guns and drugs, human beings can be sold time and time again. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, including Ohio, and second only to drug trafficking.

A recent study estimates that 1,078 of Ohio’s children are lost to sex trafficking every year. The Ohio study also revealed:
  • 88 percent of Ohio’s human trafficking involves sex slavery; and
  • 84 percent of Ohio victims are American born.

Q: How does human trafficking happen in Ohio?
A: There are two major reasons Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for human trafficking:
1) Ohio’s large urban centers and rural counties include a large transient and immigrant population. Language barriers and transience make trafficking difficult for authorities to recognize.  
2) Ohio’s five major highways are convenient for human traffickers who sell in other states and in Canada.

Q: Is prostitution considered human trafficking?  
A: Yes. Most prostitutes in Ohio are controlled by pimps, drug dealers, strip club operators, internet sex and escort providers, and drug house operators. Because prostitutes are largely controlled by force, fraud, fear, duress or other coercive control techniques, they are considered victims of human trafficking, regardless of their age. Researcher and author Catharine MacKinnon explains that, in prostitution, money “…acts as a form of force, not as a measure of consent.” According to abolitionist Kathleen Barry, oppression “cannot effectively be measured according to degree of consent, since even in slavery there was some consent, if consent is defined as inability to see, or feel any alternative.”

For this reason, the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio created a specialty docket court called CATCH (“Changing Attitudes to Change Habits”), to assist human trafficking victims who have been charged with commercial sex acts. CATCH Court’s Judge Paul Herbert has said that “the world’s oldest profession is the world’s oldest oppression.”

Q:   How might I recognize human trafficking in Ohio?
A:   "Red flags," such as the abbreviated list below, suggest that human trafficking is occurring. A person may be a victim of human trafficking if he or she:
  • Lacks freedom to come or go;
  • Indicates an inability to move or leave a job;
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts;
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and is controlled by a pimp, drug dealer or other “manager”;
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips to perform a service; and/or
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours.

Q: What can I do if I think someone in Ohio is a victim of human trafficking?
A: With as much detail as possible, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline 24 hours a day/seven days a week at 1-888-3737-888.


This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Judge Gregory F. Singer of the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court with assistance from Tonya Folks, development director for, an abolitionist organization. 

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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