Most people think of slavery as an inhumane practice that society has risen above, that it’s a thing of the past. But sadly, there are modern slaves right here in central Ohio. I’m talking about people who are forced or coerced into sexual slavery by human traffickers. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, investigators have identified more than 22,000 sex trafficking cases in the United States since 2007. There have been nearly 1,400 cases in Ohio in that same amount of time. And that’s just the cases police KNOW about. There could be many more silent victims out there, because victims often are too scared of retribution by their captors to seek help.
Stollar on how victims fall prey to human traffickers:
That’s what local author Christopher Stollar discovered during the three years of research he conducted for his new book “The Black Lens.” The fictional story follows a teenage girl named Zoey who decides to fight back after being forced into a sex ring. But unfortunately, as Stollar found out, many real-life victims never fight back or try to escape. “Pimps are expert manipulators. They use threats of violence and coercion to keep these girls in line.” Stollar says Ohio’s opioid crisis has provided more fuel to the fire; he found that pimps often use drugs to keep the victims in line. Runaway teens are also frequently targeted.
Stollar praised organizations like She Has A Name and the Salvation Army for providing a support system for survivors to rely on. “It’s very easy, even once these girls get rescued, to relapse back into that life, either because of the need for drugs or the lack of stable employment. It’s crucial they have a support system— social workers and licensed counselors and people than can help them stay in this new life.”
Stollar on what needs to change to better combat human trafficking:
And luckily, we’ve seen a gradual shift in how society views the selling of sex in this country. Stollar pointed out that in cities like Columbus, police officers are less likely to view the trafficking victims as criminals — instead focusing on the clients. Under Ohio law, solicitation is a first-degree misdemeanor. If the person selling is younger than 16, the solicitor can be charged with a fourth-degree felony.
Identifying the solicitors and the “John School”:
And more is being done to try and combat sex trafficking online. Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman is co-sponsoring a bill that targets websites suspected of facilitating trafficking. It follows a lengthy investigation into Backpage.com. The site posts pornographic advertisements, allegedly in order to entice customers to solicit. Stollar: “For years they’ve been hiding sex crimes, especially when it comes to minors, especially through these ads… It’s long overdue to shut that down.”
Christopher Stollar is a former reporter with a master’s degree in journalism. His novel “The Black Lens” won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards. Stollar is donating 10% of his earnings from the book to organizations that battle human trafficking.