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Portman, panel spotlight human trafficking

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that affects every community, including the Dayton area, and it needs to be acknowledged, Sen. Rob Portman and other panel members said Friday at a University of Dayton forum.

Portman, R-Ohio, said legislation he champions at the federal level needs to support agencies and change minds about the youngest members in human trafficking.

“It changes the approach at the federal level, rather than looking at young people who have been exploited as criminals to look at them as victims,” Portman said. “Get them into the child welfare system; get them the services they need.”

Panelists pointed out that human trafficking encompasses prostitution, forced labor and missing children, and includes issues such as domestic violence, poverty, child sex abuse, runaways, drug addiction, mental illness and immigration.

UD lecturer Tony Talbott of Abolition Ohio said 27 million people worldwide are enslaved, and cases have been found in 160 countries and all 50 U.S. states as well as in Dayton. Some 100,000 children have been exploited for commercial sex in the U.S., including more than 1,000 in Ohio, he said.

“This crime is monstrous,” Talbott said. “And the task is daunting.”

Likewise, panelists said solutions need to be wide-ranging, with funds and resources found for education, treatment and low-income housing.

Judge Gregory Singer said human trafficking isn’t a legal, legislative or political issue. “It’s a societal problem,” he said. “We need to work together.”

Singer lauded the efforts of Dayton police officers, who are changing the way they investigate human trafficking.

“You’d pick up a prostitute and say why are you doing this, was there money, was there sex exchanged? And you’re looking for elements of a crime,” Dayton police Lt. Joseph Wiesman said. “Now, when we interview them, it’s more like interviewing a victim — are you being forced to do this? Are you doing that?”

Other panelists included: Cheryl Oliver of Dayton-based Oasis House, which helps women in the sex industry; Elizabeth Van Dine of Be Free Dayton, which seeks to abolish and prevent sex trafficking in the Miami Valley and has put soap bars with trafficking hotline numbers in hotels; UD student Erin Peery of Consciousness Rising, whose March 20-22 social justice conference will concentrate on topics including human trafficking and the over-sexualization of culture.

“Dayton is on the cutting edge in terms of addressing this trafficking issue, particularly sex trafficking, and so we had a great panel today,” Portman said. “For me, it was great information … as I go back to Washington.”

Last month, Portman helped introduce the Bringing Missing Children Home Act of 2014. That legislation seeks to improve law enforcement reporting and response procedures to missing children cases by requiring police to update records with photos and coordinate with child welfare systems.

In 2013, Portman was behind the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act, which seeks to collect reliable data on foster care children and requires better tracking and information sharing.

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