Recent prostitution sting intended to help human-trafficking victims, chief says

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group
Greg Jones, chief of the New Albany Police Department said during a one-day sting Jan. 27, the department and other law-enforcement partners arrested eight women engaging in prostitution. He said the objective of the sting was to help victims of human trafficking.

The New Albany Police Department had more than a suspicion that human trafficking was an issue in the suburb, but it was hard to detect, Chief Greg Jones said.

So the department turned to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for help.

Specifically, officers worked with the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, part of the attorney general's Organized Crime Investigations Commission.

After a one-day sting Jan. 27, New Albany and other law-enforcement partners arrested eight women engaging in prostitution.

“It’s not a hotbed,” Jones said. "You can always find places that are better or worse.”

Although the women – some of whom were independent operators, whereas others were forced into the lifestyle – were arrested, the sting was not meant to punish them but rather find them help through court-related diversion programs and social-service agencies, he said.

“Otherwise, if we were to say, ‘We really want to help you,’ they would turn around and walk away," Jones said.

The operation was a first for New Albany, Jones said.

Because the city does not have conventional "streetwalkers," finding the prostitutes was not easy, he said.

The sting involved six officers from New Albany and at least twice as many from the task force. They coordinated their efforts at a New Albany hotel on U.S. Route 62, Jones said.

“It was very successful,” he said. “We were very happy with the outcome.”

Although some women were caught with drugs, none were charged with a related crime, Jones said.

Other agencies involved in the sting were the Dublin Police Department, Columbus Division of Police, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Salvation Army and Southeast Healthcare’s HOPE Task Force.

Victims’ advocates were on hand to speak to the women and direct them to resources.

“We fulfill several different roles in the antitrafficking network, and one of these roles is providing on-scene victim advocacy and working with law-enforcement partners so we can engage human-trafficking victims right when they’re identified,” said Michelle Hannan, anti-human-trafficking program director for the Salvation Army Central Ohio Area.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army offers several other ways to help victims, such as a 24-hour hotline for 14 counties, drop-in centers, street outreach, medical care, trauma counseling, housing and drug treatment.

The Salvation Army also provides long-term case management until victims reach stability and are trying to assimilate to an everyday life, Hannan said.

“We really stress our advocacy is available, if they do go to jail, before they go to jail, while they’re in jail and after they get out of jail,” Hannan said.

It takes a long time to determine success, Hannan said.

“I think everybody is different, and it just depends on their situation,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for people to have multiple arrests, especially on the street level.”

Jones said he is not sure if the city would participate in another sting.

“We are not opposed to continuing this,” he said. “If there’s a return, we want to work with the task force.”

To report human trafficking, call the Salvation Army at 888-373-7888.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary