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State aims to combat human trafficking in NW Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is stepping up its fight against human trafficking by raising awareness and giving runaways a safe shelter.

The state this past week approved spending a combination of state and federal money to create a 24-hour shelter in Toledo for young runaways. It also agreed to use just over $500,000 during the next two years to help children's advocacy centers across Ohio learn how to help young victims and their families.

Combating the illegal trade of human beings for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor has become a priority for Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers. Victims of human trafficking often are prostituted or pushed to work against their will in sweatshop-type jobs. Some are girls as young as 11.

A new state law signed last year increased penalties and created a fund to help victims.

On Friday, a judge in Columbus threw out the criminal record of a human trafficking victim, using a provision in the new law. It was the first time a judge in Ohio had done that, the governor's office said.

"Victims of human trafficking don't deserve to be treated as criminals, but deserve our compassion and support so they can retake control of their lives," Kasich said.

The Ohio Controlling Board this past week approved spending federal funds to support AmeriCorps members who are working on human trafficking issues.

Toledo Area Ministries plans to use part of the money to expand the hours for its drop-in shelter for runaways.

"We try to meet their emergency needs such as food, first-aid, hygiene," she told The (Toledo) Blade. "They can do laundry and settle into a room to sleep for the rest of the night."

Other AmeriCorps members will work with businesses, schools and libraries to put up signs letting runaways know they can go for help.

State officials, meanwhile, said the Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers in 26 locations around the state will get $523,000 to respond to the needs of human trafficking victims and their families.

The centers will use the money to provide medical screenings, forensic interviews and mental health care, Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services said Tuesday. Money also will go toward training, conducting workshops on human trafficking and identifying community resources.

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Information from: The Toledo Free Press.

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