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Justice for young human trafficking victims

Law programs help victimized children reclaim their lives

Human trafficking is a billion dollar, black-market industry that enslaves millions around the world into commercial sex or labor services. In the United States, more than 100,000 children are estimated to be involved in the sex trade. Ohio consistently ranks as one of the worst states for human trafficking.

The most common age of victims? Thirteen.

Kimberly Jordan, a law professor in the Moritz College of Law and director of the Justice for Children Project, has helped tackle this issue head-on as supervisor of the Greif Fellowship in Juvenile Trafficking.

Her work allows juvenile human trafficking victims to tell their stories, step out of the shadows and start a new life. 

What is one misconception about human trafficking?

One misconception is that these kids are being kidnapped by people they don’t know. Most kids who get caught up in this lifestyle are with somebody they have cultivated a relationship with, somebody they believe loves them. They often don’t know they are being exploited.

A good number of the kids we work with have either been involved with children’s services or have run away from home. A lot of kids still live at home and meet people on the internet or in their personal lives who they develop a relationship with. Then they will do things for them but don’t often realize it’s making the other person money.

What is being done in Ohio to combat this?

Ohio has a human trafficking task force that is a coalition of law enforcement agencies that work together to do investigations. They are more interested in kids getting services and help than in prosecuting them. That has trended around the country, making sure we’re identifying kids and trying to help them rather than just putting them through the juvenile justice system and further criminalizing them.

The grant we got in 2013 from the Greif Packaging Charitable Trust was to represent kids who had been identified as victims or were at risk of becoming victims. Our primary focus is getting them services and support and making sure their needs are getting met. Our last year of funding is 2019-20, and we’re looking to continue the work. We feel we’ve gotten pretty good at it, so we’re looking to partner with additional funders.

Have there been successes of this work?

By representing kids who have been victimized, we’re giving them a voice they haven’t had before. They know they have somebody on their side fighting for them and arguing for what they want to happen in their lives, to try to move forward into adulthood.

Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law entitles them to dismissal and expungement of their record if they complete certain services through the court. We’ve had a number of kids go through that program and have their charges dismissed so they’re entering the next phase of their lives with clean juvenile records.

How can people help?

Mentoring is huge. Many of the kids we are working with have a lot of vulnerabilities. They’ve been involved with the child welfare system, they’ve been involved with the juvenile court system, and they may not have a lot of positive influences in their lives. They need support and encouragement and they don’t have a lot of that happening.

Three good resources for those who want to get involved are the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, Grace Haven and CASA.