COLUMBUS — Investigators will start analyzing data concerning missing children and runaways as part of efforts to combat human trafficking in the state.
Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the new effort Monday during a meeting of his office’s Human Trafficking Commission in Columbus, with hopes of identifying potential trafficking victims before they are taken captive.
“Human trafficking exists in Ohio — that’s a hard thing for people to realize,” DeWine said. “… We just know that there are certain populations that are particularly vulnerable… What we’re really doing today is … looking at some data to see how we can at least get some indication that someone might be being trafficked.”
The state already collects information through the Ohio Missing Children Clearinghouse about at-risk youth. Analysts in the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Missing Persons Unit plan to further examine that information, social media and other databases to identify indicators of children are at risk of or already being trafficked.
Investigators will then contact local law enforcement and provide assistance to help protect the children involved.
“We want to get to these kids before the traffickers do,” DeWine said, adding later, “It is my hope that … local law enforcement will then reach out to these children and intervene in their lives before a trafficker can. Sometimes that all these kids really need — someone to take the time to listen and to care and to protect them.”
The announcement came on the same day that DeWine released new statistics for human trafficking activities in the state.
According to the report, law enforcement agencies around Ohio investigated 135 human trafficking incidents last year, arresting 78 perpetrators and convicting 28 of those in the process.
Investigators also identified 151 potential victims, 170 suspected traffickers and 102 people who were identified as potential consumers of sex trafficking.
But DeWine cautioned that the numbers don’t provide a full picture of human trafficking in Ohio.
“We still think this is a grossly under-reported crime,” DeWine said. “We still think there’s a lot of kids out there who are being trafficked in one form or another, and we’re not getting reports of it….”
Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.