GALLIPOLIS — U.S. Senator from Ohio Rob Portman (R-Cincinnati) joined with southeastern Ohio organizations and residents Tuesday morning to discuss the nature of human trafficking, its status and what could be done to combat it while meeting at Bossard Memorial Library.
Groups present represented law enforcement, human trafficking fighters, civic organizations, legal counsel, mental health and more.
“It’s great to be in Gallipolis,” said Portman. “For several years now, when I first got elected… we’ve been looking at this (human) trafficking issue. Reports came from northwest Ohio the Toledo area of increase in trafficking. Law enforcement were coming to us and saying ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this’ and a lot of this because of (I-75) coming down there from Detroit and (I-70) going across. Ohio is a place where a lot of stuff happens like the opioid crisis…The trafficking people, and a lot of this is underage girls, is increasing in our state based on all the reports.”
Portman said he believed reports of trafficking had increased 800 percent between 2005 and 2015. The senator listed issues with the internet and websites like Backpage which were being used to organize sex trafficking and then hiding evidence of crimes to profit. The roundtable discussion, hosted by the Child Protection Center of Ross County held in Gallipolis, came after the passage of legislation called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) to address such issues.
Portman would eventually ask members about the room their issues with the state of trafficking in Ohio. Much of the conversation drifted to concerns with drugs, parents not taking an active role in the lives of their children, trauma sustained in a crisis, identifying victims and a lack of resources to address issues.
Thom Mollohan of Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery along with Executive Director of the Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board Robin Harris shared concerns that many of the ongoing problems with southeast Ohio shared symptoms, including drug abuse, suicide, domestic abuse and more when compounded with Ohio’s sex trafficking.
Sgt. Jake Schuldt of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Meigs and Gallia Post said it was sometimes difficult in proving a victim might be trafficked despite law enforcement suspicion, unless there were other extenuating circumstances such as drugs present or victims identified as needing help. Juveniles may be pulled over with an adult but attempting to contact parents may not work as they may not answer a phone or the person answering the other side of a phone may not even be a parent. If juveniles haven’t committed a crime, Schuldt said there was potential difficulty in holding onto them after a traffic stop. He said some parents simply refused to come and pick up a child, if taken off the road.
Members of the Gallia Sheriff’s Office and Gallia Prosecutor’s Office cited concerns with funding and difficulties in applying for grant money in rural areas.
Harris and Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin said community members had taken steps in an attempt to rectify mental health concerns among other issues with drugs, human trafficking and more. Crisis intervention training and “creative” funding and partnerships were being utilized to create centers to address trauma in home life and beyond. “Wearing many hats” has often been a saying recognized in southeastern Ohio and officials battling both trafficking and the drug epidemic utilize it. Harris thanked Portman for his efforts in passing legislation which pushed funding towards concerns she cited.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.