CLEVELAND — A recent statewide human trafficking sting operation highlighted the latest change in Ohio law, and how police are apprehending not just those tied to the sale of sex, but those who buy as well.
Throughout 2020, the Ohio Attorney General’s office reported police only identified 17 people trying to buy sex, known as “johns.”
Within the last week, more than 160 suspected “johns” were arrested and charged across the state.
“This is the largest operation involving the most service providers and law enforcement officers in the history of the state,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.
The sting comes after House Bill 431 went into effect this year. Part of the new law is meant to help reduce the demand for sex workers and details how those who purchase sex face a first degree misdemeanor and fine up to $1,500.
“The reason human trafficking exists is because of the money and because of the demand,” Yost said. “It’s actually in Ohio now a more serious criminal offense to buy sex than to sell sex.”
While the faces involved in this investigation are blurred, Annette Mango wants you to know her name and how she feels about this investigation and the new law that made it happen.
“I was trafficked for 15-20 years,” she said. “It was this feeling, I was like ‘oh my gosh.’ After all these years, it’s getting better.”
With the help of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center, Mango was rescued about seven years ago after years in and out of jail and prison tied to trafficking charges.
“Most of the time, we’ve seen the victims being penalized for being victims, with nothing being done,” Renee Jones explained. “Without that demand, we wouldn’t have this issue.”
Nowadays, Mango shares her story with others.
“I talk to whoever wants to listen, whoever wants to learn,” Mango said. “I don’t care if it's one person or many people. If one person wants to learn, that can be one prevention.”
While she spent time inside a cell, Mango told News 5 her handlers never faced the same scrutiny from the law.
“I still see some of them today,” she said. “Nothing ever happened to them, because back then they didn’t believe me.”
With the latest sting and change in law, Mango is optimistic for the future.
“You have people like Miss Renee saying trust the system, it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “Look -- it’s happening, it’s happening and I'm glad I’m still a part to see this.”
The new law also requires those convicted to undergo human trafficking education.