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Ohio lawmakers were notorious this legislative session for not being able to agree on much.
The state’s budget required several weeks of overtime before passage and both chambers combined to set a new modern-day collective low in the number of bills passed.
That makes Senate Bill 235 — the state’s stab at cracking down on human trafficking — all the more noteworthy as it sailed through both the Ohio House and Senate by unanimous votes this December.
And Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it.
The driving force behind passage of the bill was state Sen. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, who began working on the legislation in 2005. During the Ohio Senate’s floor debate on Dec. 1, Fedor gave a passionate speech comparing human trafficking, which often is a feature of prostitution rings involving juveniles, to the slavery trade.
As Fedor made her case for the legislation, she mentioned the frequent crackdowns on human trafficking that have taken place in recent years in her hometown of Toledo before uttering a startling statistic.
"Sadly, in Ohio, Toledo, in my district is fourth in the nation behind much bigger cities — Miami, Las Vegas, Portland (Ore.) — in number of human trafficking arrests and rescues," Fedor said.
Undoubtedly, human trafficking is a problem in Ohio. We certainly are home to our share of teenage runaways, pimps and the problems that come with it. But could Toledo, the 60th largest city in the country with about 316,000 residents, really be fourth worst in the whole country?
Sounded like a case for PolitiFact Ohio.
Asked for research to back up the ranking, Fedor’s office punted to Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo professor who chaired a special Research and Analysis Subcommittee of the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission formed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Williamson said Toledo’s No. 4 status comes from statistics compiled by the Northwest Ohio Innocence Lost Task Force, an FBI task force that was one of 39 created in 2004 across the country to crack down on human trafficking. The commission’s report listed Miami, Portland and Las Vegas as Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
However, the Northwest Ohio task force’s statistics actually show that Toledo is fourth in the nation in the number of human trafficking arrests, investigations and rescues that involve minors, Williamson clarified.
But she said she thinks the ranking is more of a reflection of heightened awareness of the problem in Toledo — rather than the problem truly being worse in Toledo than most other places in America.
"My personal opinion is that Cleveland is worse," she said. "Cincinnati, Columbus and Youngstown all have a problem that is equal to Toledo, but they don’t have the resources in place to respond. Toledo is not unique at all, and soon we will not have that title. We just have a better response."
While the Toledo FBI office didn’t return calls, Cleveland FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said that the No. 4 ranking attributed to the Northwest Ohio Innocence Lost Task Force ranking comes from comparing the statistics from a pair of intense three-day sweeps made simultaneously in 2009 by all 39 task forces.
The results of those sweeps showed Toledo as having the fourth-highest number of juveniles arrested, investigated and rescued over a pair of three-day periods in 2009 among the 39 cities in the United States where these FBI task forces exist.
And while Wilson called Toledo "a city of origin" with "generational pimps," he also said he didn’t think the problem in Toledo was any worse than any other major metropolitan city.
"Was Toledo way up there statistically in kids we recovered? Absolutely," Wilson said. "Is there more child prostitution in Toledo than in other major metropolitan areas? Maybe not."
Wilson said more than 80 children had been rescued away from Toledo prostitution rings since 2004, but that the No. 4 ranking is still probably misleading.
"I don’t know if that’s (number four ranking) completely accurate," said Wilson. "We do know that we had a problem in Toledo, we know that it’s a city of origin and we know we’re making progress there."
So let’s review what we found out:
- Toledo did rank No. 4 in the number of human trafficking and arrests and rescues in a 2009 report comparing the statistics from a pair of intense three-day sweeps across the country, but those were cases that involved minors.
- Toledo’s foremost civilian authority on the issue, Professor Celia Williamson, the authority Fedor’s staff referred us to, doubts Toledo’s juvenile human trafficking problem is even the worst in Ohio.
- The FBI office in Cleveland says the No. 4 ranking comes from adding up those busted in a pair of sweeps made in 2009. But it agrees that ranking most likely isn’t accurate and doesn’t mean that Toledo really has the fourth-worst human trafficking problem in the country.
There is a small element of truth behind Fedor’s statement; the 2009 report did have Toledo at No. 4 among 39 cities across the country that had arrest sweeps. But Fedor mischaracterized the statistic, omitting the word "minor" in her speech on the Senate floor. And both the state’s top expert and the FBI suspect the statistic is misleading.
That’s why we rate her claim as Barely True -- but just barely.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
Phone Interview with Professor Celia Williamson on Dec. 3, 2010
Phone Interview with FBI spokesman Scott Wilson on Dec. 8, 2010
U.S. Census Bureau, city rankings by estimated population as of July 1, 2009, released June 2010
Archived footage of Sen. Teresa Fedor’s floor speech. Speech begins at 8:49 mark.
Ohio Attorney General, report on the Prevalence of Human Trafficking in Ohio. Statistic citing Toledo as ranked No. 4 in domestic minor sex trafficking victims is on Page 13.
Ohio Citizen Action, report detailing how few bills the legislature has passed this session
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