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State aims to rescue teens before they fall victim to sex traffickers

Report identifies 151 potential victims of trafficking, many of them for sex trade.

Analysts and agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation will scour social media and government data banks to identify teens at risk of being dragged into the underworld of human trafficking and reach them before they fall victim, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday.

Research shows that children who have run away from home multiple times, are in the foster care system and or have used drugs are often vulnerable, he said.

“These kids are out on their own. They of course need shelter, they need food, they need companionship. That is something traffickers offer, at a very, very tragic cost. We want to get to these kids before the traffickers do,” DeWine said at a meeting of the AG’s Human Trafficking Commission.

BCI’s Crimes Against Children Unit and the Missing Persons Unit will work to identify at-risk kids and pass along the information to local law enforcement to make contact.

“We still think this is a grossly under-reported crime. We still think there’s just a lot of kids out there being trafficked in one form or another. And we’re not getting reports of it,” he said. DeWine said the goal is to help local law enforcement with human trafficking, which can be forced labor or sex.

Sex trafficking has gotten the attention of elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. A Senate subcommittee chaired by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, held a hearing and released a report last week that accused a commercial website of editing ads aimed at child sex trafficking to conceal their true content.

RELATED: Backpage execs refuse to testify

As part of his efforts, DeWine announced a $128,148 grant to Amethyst Inc. to provide 12 apartments for victims of human trafficking who are participating in the CATCH Court program in Franklin County Municipal Court.

The 2016 Human Trafficking Annual Report, released Monday by DeWine’s office, reported:

  • Law enforcement handled 135 human trafficking cases, leading to 79 arrests and 28 criminal convictions;
  • There were 151 potential victims identified, including 117 females, 17 males and 17 having no gender specified;
  • Law enforcement identified 170 suspected traffickers — 160 potentially in the sex trade, 10 potentially in forced labor;
  • The suspected traffickers were between the ages of 14 and 59 years old while the potential victims were mostly teens and young adults, though one victim was under age 12 and six were older than 40;
  • Underlying risk factors leading to the victim being trafficked included “runaway and homeless youth,” “truancy,” and “drug/alcohol/other dependency.”
  • 31,926 law enforcement officers took online or in-person courses on human trafficking offered by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.

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