Last weekend, I spent an evening at “A Night of Hope.”
The annual gala, which was held online this year, is hosted by the Central Ohio anti-human trafficking organization, She Has a Name (SHAN).
Between testimony from survivors and advocates, it was a night filled with emotion: heartbreak and frustration, but mostly hope.
At a time when the world seems so dark, it moved me to see how women have overcome something as terrible as sex trafficking and how a community has united against it.
SHAN has three pillars in its fight against human trafficking: education, advocacy and care.
Throughout the night, their advocacy efforts especially resonated with me because we all have an opportunity to play a role in it.
Specifically, Attorney General Dave Yost shared several pieces of legislation SHAN’s staff has supported over the past year.
She Has a Name staff has testified in support of House Bill 431, which would create a Sexual Exploitation Database. Those who solicit sex would be listed in the public database, similarly to the manner sex offenders are listed in online registries.
Yost spoke about this measure as using shame as a deterrent.
I see it as bringing light to one of the darkest corners of our state.
Many of us want to believe that something so horrific could not happen so close to home. Young girls can’t possibly be abused in this manner throughout our community.
But, we know that Ohio has the fifth-highest commercial sex trade in the country.
It’s time for us to hold perpetrators accountable and offer hope to their victims. We can’t turn a blind eye for the sake of our own comfort.
The legislation would help with prevention, but SHAN doesn’t stop there.
It also supports Senate Bill 13, or the “Protect Trafficked Minors Act.”
As of now, Ohio is the only state in the nation to require proof of force, fraud or coercion in cases of 16- or 17-year-old trafficking victims in order for them to qualify for the protections available to other minors.
The bill would strike this requirement and allow Ohio law to recognize minors involved in commercial sex as victims, rather than perpetrators of a crime.
SHAN works tirelessly with a number of community partners to provide care for young girls and women just like them.
A huge network of organizations and volunteers help find them shelter at safe houses, connect them to mentors and job opportunities and even provide scholarships to pursue further education or achieve other dreams.
Beyond survivors, SHAN believes there is hope for recovery for everyone involved in commercial sex – including solicitors.
It operates The John School, which offers first-time offenders sessions with counselors, survivors and community members in an attempt to find “healing and healthy community.”
SHAN calls itself “a community of abolitionists,” a reference to sex trafficking as modern day slavery.
Attorney General Yost mentioned how deeply this label spoke to him.
The advocates fighting for these women don’t think that slowing human trafficking is enough. They won’t stop their efforts until every person held captive to it is freed.
It’s a daunting task, and certainly one that takes all of us.
SB 13 has passed in the Senate but still needs to be passed by the House. HB 431 has passed in the House but is waiting for approval by the Senate.
If SHAN’s mission resonates with you too, I would encourage you to take action and play a role in the fight against this injustice. Write to your representatives and show your support, and let them know we won’t stop until it is abolished once and for all.
-Kayleen Petrovia is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.
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