Human trafficking victims and their advocates are pushing to modernize Ohio’s prostitution laws, which allow prosecutors to charge 16 and 17-year-olds with prostitution and solicitation.
Federal law automatically views minors who engage in commercial sex acts as victims, but the Ohio Revised Code only automatically exempts a person “less than sixteen years of age.”
Maureen Guirguis, Co-Director Human Trafficking Law Project at Case Western Reserve Law School, often represents teenage clients in this situation. She and other advocates believe protections should be extended to all minors involved in sex trafficking.
“We have to have protections for children,” Guirguis said. “So why do we have all of these laws and all of these protections and then we’re saying we can charge them and treat them like criminals?”
It’s a reality that former sex trafficking victim Barbara Freeman knows too well.
Freeman was homeless at 16 and soon found herself under the control of a pimp.
“I just felt like I was trapped and that became a way of life for me,” Freeman said.
A scared teenager, she said she wanted to find help but feared the legal consequences.
“I didn’t want to go to jail but if I had asked for help I felt like that’s what would have happened,” she explained.
Freeman joined Guirguis and the Human Trafficking Law Project for a law symposium Friday at Case Western Reserve University Law School to discuss ways to modernize Ohio’s law and help young victims who are now in the same spot.
Last month, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) announced plans to introduce legislation to modernize Ohio’s laws to treat all survivors of human trafficking under the age of 18 as victims – not criminals.