WASHINGTON, D.C. – Juvenile prostitution activity continues throughout Ohio, with numerous traffickers victimizing children from Ohio within the state and other places throughout the country, the special agent in charge of Cleveland’s Federal Bureau of Investigation office told a congressional task force Thursday.
Eric B. Smith told the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence that since 2006, dozens of sex traffickers in Ohio have been convicted of federal and state charges, with some receiving life sentences. He said more than 100 child victims have been recovered as a result of these investigations.
“The use of the internet remains at the heart of these crimes,” said Smith. “The recruitment and subsequent grooming of victims is often accomplished through the use of social media.”
Smith said traffickers gain the trust of potential victims by giving them affection, money or other material items, and then introducing them to the world of sex trafficking. Force, fraud, coercion and illegal drugs help traffickers gain control over the people they victimize, said Smith.
He said closure of a notorious online marketplace for illegal sexual services called backpage.com “caused really only a minor impediment” for sex traffickers as dozens of other online sex marketplaces or applications took their place. He said the internet is frequently where juveniles are trafficked for sex. He urged people with information about trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888.
“An unfortunate recent trend involves the sale of online content as a means of generating revenue,” said Smith. “Under this scheme, an individual who may be under the control of a trafficker posts sexually explicit content online and then charges users to access that content.”
He asked Congress to grant law enforcement access to encrypted platforms “where this kind of criminal activity is just running completely unsupervised and unwatched.”
“We can get into somebody’s sock drawer with a warrant from a judge, but we can’t get into somebody’s cell phone, and that’s very frustrating,” Smith told the task force.
Bainbridge Township Republican Rep. Dave Joyce, a task force member who previously served as Geauga County prosecutor, described human trafficking as one of the fastest growing forms of transnational crime. He estimated more than 40 million people are victims of human trafficking each year, resulting in profits that exceed $150 billion. He said a recent study estimates that more than 4,200 Ohio juveniles are at risk of becoming trafficking victims.
“All those statistics go to show how critical any and all the efforts to eliminate this crime are, and the efforts to support victims and ensure they receive the justice they deserve,” said Joyce.
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