Eleven-hundred police, prosecutors, community activists and survivors are in Cincinnati for a sold-out conference Oct. 15-17 on juvenile sex trafficking. The eighth-annual Juvenile Sex Trafficking Conference (JuST) is at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
It's a topic that organizers say is certainly relevant to Ohio. The state ranks fourth nationally for calls to the national human trafficking hotline. In addition, the state's latest human trafficking study, done by University of Cincinnati researchers and released by the Office of Criminal Justice Services determined there were 1,032 known victims and 4,209 more at risk from 2014-2016 who were minors and young adults.
Experts say Dayton in particular is a hotbed since it is at the intersection of interstates I-75 and I-70.
The conference is sponsored by Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization in the fight to eradicate domestic minor sex trafficking. It features 75 workshops with such topics as:
- Recognizing Sex Trafficking in Hotels
- The Good, Bad & Dangerous Online Apps and Games
- Demolishing Demand to Purchase Trafficked Victims
- The Intersection of the Opioid Epidemic with Sex Trafficking
"Though sex trafficking of minors is an issue better understood today than it was when we started this conference in 2012, many traffickers, pimps and buyers are still escaping justice as survivors are denied justice," said Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope.
According to Smith, "We must confront the cultural bias in this country that allows us to treat exploited children as adult criminals while adult men can simply deny they knew the age of their victims to get off on lesser charges."
Shared Hope's Policy Counsel Sarah Bendtsen is encouraged by this year's participation at the conference. "Even those of us who are working on this issue day in and day out, we don't have all the answers. But the answers are out there and if you put enough people in the same room and have really honest, tough conversations those answers will be developed."
A key part of the solution, according to Bendtsen, are state laws that don't punish victims. She says Ohio is one of many states where children can be arrested for sex. "We are seeing still a lot of youth survivors ending up in the juvenile justice system which only increases their vulnerability."