Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has been leading the charge in Washington against human trafficking, not only by co-chairing the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, but by authoring legislation to strengthen laws around it.
But the Cincinnati Republican said Friday at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center that this issue is best addressed at the local level.
“I think you get it down to the most local level you can and get the awareness,” Portman said.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Ohio and the freshman senator from Ohio has been traveling the state talking about the issue “and to raise the consciousness about what’s going on, not just around the world, but right here in Ohio and right here in Cincinnati.”
“People really understand what’s going on and to make sure we stop this horrific practice, both here and around the world,” Portman said. “Most people think it happens in other places, like Africa and Asia, and certainly it does, but it’s also going on right here.”
The discussion came a day after a federal grand jury returned an indictment that charged two Cincinnati men, Anthony Lee Brown, 48, and Christopher Combs, 25, with sex trafficking. The men, who lived down the street from Cincinnati Police District 3 Headquarters and within a mile from two Catholic elementary and high schools on Cincinnati’s Westside, allegedly transported individuals from Ohio to Kentucky and elsewhere from Oct. 7 to Nov. 18 to engage in prostitution. They also face coercion and enticement charges to lure individuals to engage in sexual activity.
They face up to 30 years each in prison if found guilty on all counts.
Human trafficking, especially with sex trafficking, most of the time involve drugs, Portman said.
“Predators get kids hooked on drugs and then making them dependent on them and the young girls not being able to escape,” he said. “Part of what we’re doing is collecting better information on all that to be able to combat it.”
Portman, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced earlier this month the Combat Human Trafficking Act which would strengthen law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute all who commit sex trafficking crimes, particularly the buyers of sex acts from trafficking victims.
“(The legislation) changes the definition of these young victims from being viewed as criminals to being viewed as victims,” he said. “We can get them in to the child welfare system to get them the help they need to get them back on their feet.”
While there isn’t one area of the state that’s more prone to human trafficking over another, he said the Interstate 75 corridor is an area of “a lot of concern.”
“Unfortunately it happens all over now, although I will say the I-75 corridor seems to be an area where there seems to be a lot of movement back and forth, and again connected with the drug trade and specifically with heroin,” he said. “And these are issues that we need to resolve together, not just the human traffic issue but some of these drug issues that make these young people dependent.”