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New legal help for juvenile sex and labor trafficking victims

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 23, 2014

According to the Washington D.C. organization Free the Slaves, 21 to 30 million people around the world today are living in slavery, victims of human trafficking, which generates an estimated $32 billion for traffickers each year.

Ohio is ranked number four in the nation by STOP (Stop Trafficking of Persons) for arrests of traffickers and the rescue of victims, many who are under 18. In fact, a report by the Ohio Attorney General’s office found that age 13 is when most youth in Ohio become child sex trafficking victims.

In 2011 Attorney General Mike DeWine reconvened the Human Trafficking Commission. The commission worked in conjunction with Ohio House Representative and Human Trafficking Commission member Teresa Fedor to help pass House Bill 262, known as the Safe Harbor Law. Fedor sponsored the law, which increases penalties for traffickers and improves care for victims. Still for many of these young people their nightmares don’t end upon being rescued. In addition to the emotional and physical trauma, many face legal problems.

Last summer, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law received a four-year grant from the Greif Packaging Charitable Trust to finance a legal fellowship dedicated to helping juveniles who are survivors of sex or labor trafficking.

“Getting legal help for trafficking survivors is essential to restoration,” said Nikki Trautman Baszynski, greif fellow in juvenile human trafficking at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “In addition to resources like shelter, food and clothing, survivors might also need immigration help, an order of protection, assistance getting custody of a child or returning to school.”

The program is housed in the school’s Justice for Children Clinic and is overseen by Kimberly Jordan, director of the Justice for Children Project. “These survivors can be difficult to find and our hope is to provide legal assistance to help free them permanently from their abusers,” said Jordan.

Trautman Baszynski is the first fellow and a graduate of the law school, which is a requirement for anyone interested in applying for fellowship. She has been charged with establishing referral processes with law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and state agencies, raising awareness about the new legal resources available and providing advice and representation to clients who need it.

“With this being the first year for the fellowship, my time is balanced between increasing our effectiveness in identifying clients and then representing them,” said Trautman Baszynski. “I have about 10 clients right now, but we know there are many more survivors out there who could use this help,” she said. “We are based in central Ohio, and for right now, have the capacity to take on clients throughout the state.”

Although a person must be under 18 to qualify for services, once accepted into the program, the individual can continue to receive help as an adult. Additionally, the fellowship will provide services to individuals needing immigration help if they are under 21 and adults who have juvenile warrants or pending juvenile delinquency cases.

While juvenile trafficking exists throughout the state, Toledo is a major hub, ranking fourth in the nation in the number of arrests in connection with the youth sex trade, according to STOP. The organization says one of the main reasons seems to be its highway system, which provides numerous connection points to sell and purchase “sex slaves.”

Trautman Baszynski said one common misconception is that the majority of these victims are kidnapped off the street.

“There is no average victim or survivor when it comes to these crimes,” she said. “Sex trafficking is present across income levels, ethnicities, genders and locations. Some high-risk groups, however, are kids who were previously abused, kicked out of their homes, have a history in foster care or juvenile detention or are homeless.

“Traffickers are clever; they know who to target,” said Trautman Baszynski. “In sex trafficking, they often begin by grooming their victims as girlfriends. They’ll treat them well, develop relationships, and then they will start selling them.” Traffickers will use to sell younger girls, with meetings often taking place in hotels, she said. Fortunately, she added, undercover officers sometimes show up instead.

“As time goes on, the trafficker may withhold food, clothing, or other needs,” she said. “Some use subtle coercion, while others use violence and fear to keep their victims from escaping. I’ve also heard that now, some traffickers, instead of assaulting the victim, will buy her a pet and hurt the animal if she refuses to cooperate.”

Despite the inhumane treatment, Trautman Baszynski said it could often be difficult to separate the victim from the trafficker because of the preexisting bond between the two.

“It is like the Stockholm Syndrome and it can be difficult to convince them that they are actually victims and need to escape,” she said, adding that fear and forced drug addictions can also inhibit a victim’s ability to leave the trafficker.

Men and boys can also be victims of trafficking. “Unfortunately, some teens identifying as LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning) are kicked out of their homes. These kids will be on the streets, incredibly vulnerable, without food or shelter and people will use that to exploit them, too,” said Trautman Baszynski.

“One thing we do know is that many adult prostitutes started well before their 18th birthday,” said Jordan. “If we are going to curb the problem we need to intervene early and hopefully prevent someone from suffering years of abuse and trauma.”

In the case of labor trafficking, Trautman Baszynski said many of the victims are undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally with promises of a good job and a better life, and instead are forced to work off a never-ending debt.

“The victim is told he or she owes $10,000 for instance, but the amount constantly goes up,” said Trautman Baszynski. “Money for food and shelter or other items is added daily. If the victim tries to leave, deportation or arrest is threatened,” she said. “They are often forced to work from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep with very little food and no freedom. They may also be raped or sold for sex.”

One key to combating these tragedies, Trautman Baszynski said, is educating the public. “Everyone needs to know how to spot a trafficking victim. There are plenty of trainings offered throughout the state and there are online webinars people can use to become more knowledgeable about the signs,” she said.

She advised people who see someone or something suspicious, to immediately call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report it. “Public vigilance is essential to helping more victims become survivors.”

Individuals who want to refer a trafficking survivor to the Greif Fellowship for legal assistance should call 614-292-3326 or visit