Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) will host his Fourth Annual Human Trafficking Summit next January 26 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Seventeen workshops will take place at the event, including examination of the trauma inflicted on trafficking survivors, best practices for serving those who have endured such crimes, discussion of why individuals solicit sex and review of state policies to reduce the demand for labor trafficking.
Keynoting this year’s event will be Suleman Masood, a doctoral candidate at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law who now chairs the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Like the other 10 members of the council, Masood is himself a trafficking survivor.
Since taking office in 2019, Yost has undertaken an ongoing initiative against human trafficking, an industry the International Labour Office believes generates about $150 billion annually across the globe. The illicit business encompasses different forms, largely sex trafficking and coerced domestic servitude, the latter of which Masood experienced. The U.S. government deems any person under the age of 18 who engages in a commercial sexual relationship to be a human-trafficking victim.
Within months of Yost being sworn in, he announced arrests of major sex-trafficking ringleaders. In April 2019, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force took Curtis Gossett and Jeffrey Bagley into state custody for overseeing sex-work operations in and around Columbus. The following month, an undercover task force apprehended 16 men in the Youngstown area for similar offenses.
In April 2021, state officials struck another major blow against human trafficking in central Ohio via a sting operation that resulted in 93 arrests and the identification of 53 victims. In October of that year, Yost’s investigations even led to the arrest of Columbus high-school teacher Robert Pea for allegedly paying for sex with a teenager.
High-profile prosecutions continued this year, with Grant Rose of Allen County receiving an 18-year prison sentence for coordinating with girlfriend Susan Walendzik to provide narcotics to a minor and practically coerce the girl into sex work. Also in 2022, Yost announced that Operation Fouled Out in the Cleveland area resulted in the apprehension of eight men who attempted to solicit prostitution.
The attorney general has also spearheaded efforts to curb demand for such activity. Two years ago, he joined several other state prosecutors in asking the online video merchant Netflix to stop purveying the 2020 film Cuties because it sexualized children in a way the officials fear could spur heightened demand for underage prostitutes.
Yost also worked with lawmakers and Governor Mike DeWine (R) to enact new legislation to raise penalties for those soliciting sex in the Buckeye State. A provision of the new policy mandates sentences for offenders to something known as “john school,” a program to educate sex buyers about the damaging practices that take place in the sex-trafficking underworld.
Despite the headway Yost credits his office with making against illicit sex rings and other forms of trafficking over the last four years, he emphasized that it remains a scourge that will still take strenuous effort to eradicate. Federal data shows about 10,000 reported cases of human trafficking occur every year, about 72 percent of which involve sexual exploitation.
The U.S. government estimates that over 100,000 trafficking victims reside in the nation each year. As of this June, Ohio has a trafficking rate of 3.84 victims per 100,000 residents, giving the state the fourth worst ratio among all states. Columbus ranks as the ninth worst city in America regarding trafficking of people.
“Ohio is becoming a model for tackling human trafficking, but there is plenty of work that still needs to be done,” Yost said in a statement. “This summit aims to keep the focus on reducing the demand while working with our partners to provide resources and tools to help survivors.”
Registration for the attorney general’s summit is now open and can be accessed via the event’s web page. People may attend virtually with limited access to the conference’s workshops.
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