Reynoldsburg City Council approved a resolution Jan. 14, establishing Jan. 11 as Human Trafficking Day in the city, drawing attention to a problem that has already come under the scrutiny of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and state legislators.
The resolution, introduced Jan. 14 by Councilman Cornelius McGrady III, also recognizes Reynoldsburg High School DECA students for their efforts to increase awareness of the problem and to raise money for Gracehaven House, a home in the Columbus area that supports young girls who have been victims of human trafficking.
DECA students are coordinating the second annual Human Trafficking Awareness Assembly, to be held at BELL Academy on Feb. 22, according to McGrady. The time for the event will be announced later.
"Human traffickers are pulling children and young adults into modern-day slavery as close as 13 miles away from Reynoldsburg," McGrady said.
He said documented cases of young people falling into the hands of sex traffickers have been identified as close as Columbus and Zanesville.
He said Toledo has been named the No. 4 transport hub in the United States for human trafficking.
"This is not something that is just happening overseas," he said. "It is happening here and we need to protect our children."
McGrady said human trafficking is the fastest-growing international criminal industry, second only to drug trafficking.
"The actual ages of boys, girls and women who are currently being trafficked can range from age 9 to mid-40s," he said. "Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad."
He said victims are often "recruited" by advertisements for jobs, then abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Many runaway teens also end up as victims, he said.
"I am an advocate for the protection of children from human trafficking via the Salvation Army," he said. "It is a cause that is pertinent to the livelihood of our youth and a huge crime that many people are not aware of."
DeWine released the Human Trafficking Annual Report on Jan. 10, outlining efforts made throughout 2012 to better protect citizens of Ohio from human trafficking.
In 2012, Kasich signed House Bill 262, Ohio's Safe Harbor, into law on June 27, making a human-trafficking charge a first-degree felony. The state also held human trafficking webinars and a summit, and established the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.
DeWine said plans for 2013 include new legislative initiatives, an expanded focus on labor trafficking in Ohio and new outreach and victims' services efforts.
McGrady said the statistics are sobering, with approximately 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year and 14,000 to 17,000 individuals trafficked into the United States from other countries. Eighty percent are women and 50 percent are minors, he said.
He said an estimated 1,800 individuals are believed to be trafficked into the sex labor trade in Ohio.