CINCINNATI — A report released Wednesday paints a vivid picture of the shadowy world of sex trafficking in Ohio, from its recruiters and groomers to its customers and pimps.
The report, released by the state Human Trafficking Commission and conducted over a three-year period, is based on interviews with 328 victims in Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland and Toledo. Of those interviewed, 115 reported that they were forced into the trade when they were under 18, with 12 percent of them sold before they were even 12 years old.
The vast majority of the girls forced into prostitution reported that they were recruited by women who were involved in the trade themselves or who at first acted like a friend, the report said.
Adults who were manipulated into the trade after they turned 18 were more likely to be recruited by a man who acted like a boyfriend before becoming threatening and violent, according to the report.
The report identified six roles involving sex-trafficking networks and found that so-called "bottoms," who are always women, are the most valued members.
"As the second in command, she is charged with teaching victims how to make money effectively and efficiently, demanding the quota from victims in the pimp's stable, and doling out the consequences if someone breaks the rules," the report said.
It also said the victims reported that customers came from all walks of life, ages and races. They included drug dealers, businessmen, police officers, lawyers, truckers, athletes and politicians.
They paid anywhere from $10 to $150, depending on what sexual services they wanted.
Many of the exchanges occurred in the customers' own homes or offices, but they also frequently occurred in brothels, truck stops, motels, bars, on the street and at strip clubs, the report said.
The report, which also detailed risk factors of children forced into sex trafficking, found that 63 percent of those interviewed reported having run away from home. Many also experienced child abuse, had been raped, experienced trouble in school and came from poverty.
The report included six recommendations to combat sex trafficking, including establishing a better response for runaways focusing on arresting and convicting buyers and engaging schools in the fight.
"We need to get to the root of the problem and make sure these kids don't slip through the cracks," Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement.
More than 1,000 Ohio children are trafficked every year, according to a 2010 report by the commission, which cited weak human-trafficking laws in Ohio compared with other states and the state's proximity to the Canadian border as driving factors for the problem.
The problem led state Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat and member of the commission, to introduce a bill in the Legislature known as the "safe harbor law," which went into effect in June. The law makes human trafficking a first-degree felony with a mandatory prison term of between 10 and 15 years. It allows victims to sue their traffickers for damages and to have their records expunged if they were convicted of prostitution or solicitation charges as a result of being forced into the sex trade.
"It's a deplorable crime and one that cannot be tolerated on any level," Fedor said Wednesday, calling it "a basic human rights issue."
Fedor made targeting human traffickers a priority after a 2005 FBI sting broke up a sex-trafficking operation in Harrisburg, Pa., that involved 177 women and girls. More than a third of the victims were from Toledo, including a 10-year-old.
"It's a problem that everyone just kept shoving under a rug to the point where we now have a crisis," Fedor said. "It's time to really clean it up."