(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — A weekend human-trafficking operation involving 98 law enforcement agencies across the state ended in the arrests of 35 “johns” seeking to buy sex and 21 others seeking to buy sex from minors, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced today.
“On my watch, those who keep human traffickers in business are going to pay a price along with the traffickers themselves,” Yost said. “My office, with the vital help of our many law enforcement partners, is committed to going after the demand side of this contemptible exploitation of vulnerable young women and girls.”
“Operation Time’s Up,” coordinated under AG Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigation Commission, targeted the demand for human trafficking with a series of stings aimed at arresting buyers of sex, commonly called johns.
The sweep also coincided with the culmination of an investigation of illicit massage parlors in Cleveland and a statewide search for missing children by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Operation Time’s Up was a multi-pronged effort involving:
Law enforcement in Franklin, Mahoning and Scioto counties, which focused on crimes against children by arresting individuals seeking to buy sex from minors. The 21 arrested face felony charges that include attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
“The Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children task force conducted traveler stings to target adult offenders actively seeking out minors using various internet-based chat and dating applications with the ultimate intent to engage in sexual activity,” Franklin County Sheriff Baldwin said. “Intercepting these predators before they can harm children is paramount to keeping our communities safe.”
Police agencies in the Columbus, Lancaster, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland, Marietta and Portsmouth areas, which focused on solicitors of sex. Many of the 35 people arrested face the enhanced charge of engaging in prostitution, a first-degree misdemeanor championed by Yost’s office. Those convicted of the charge must undergo human trafficking education, also known as “john school.”
“Human trafficking is fueled by customers – predators – who engage in paid sexual services,” Fairfield County Sheriff Alex Lape said. “Conducting proactive undercover sting operations is an effective tactic to bring public awareness to human trafficking and education to the buyers of paid sexual services.”
The U.S. Marshals Service, which throughout August conducted an operation to locate and recover missing children, per the request of law enforcement, to ensure their well-being.
“The Justice for Victims Trafficking Act of 2015 enhanced the United States Marshals’ authority to support federal, state and local law enforcement efforts in the process of locating missing, abducted or endangered children,” said Brad Stuart, Acting U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “Thank you to all of the partners who worked together to rescue our communities’ most vulnerable children.”
As has been the practice during such operations, law officers who came across individuals offering to sell sex – men and women – interviewed them; the victims were also offered medical and social services from nongovernmental agencies and nonprofits working alongside law enforcement. Such intervention can help pull victims out of the trafficking trap.
Interviews with both buyers and sellers of sex yielded tips helpful in long-term investigations. In July, for example, two Cuyahoga County residents were indicted on charges of trafficking multiple women, indictments that stemmed from a previous sting by the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.
“It is time to challenge and change our attitudes about human trafficking,” said Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant. “Through partnerships with the nearly 900 local law enforcement agencies in the state of Ohio, the Columbus Division of Police is committed to a holistic, deliberate collaboration to address this complex issue plaguing our communities. We must all raise our voices and be dedicated to preventing future victims from being exploited by these perpetrators.”