Human Trafficking, Prostitution Very Real In Ohio, Including Athens County

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“The day I knew I was going to die was the day I realized I wanted to live.”

Vanessa Perkins stood before a crowd of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and child services agents on Friday.

She recognized one as a case worker whom she knew from fighting to get custody of her son.

“I think I was arrested by someone in this room,” she noted.

Perkins, a Nelsonville native, was one of three speakers who made presentations at a seminar held at the Athens City Municipal Building on Friday.

Perkin is a victim of human trafficking.

She, Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert and Columbus Police Department Detective Ken Lawson came to educate professionals about a problem of which they might not be aware.

Herbert and Lawson said they began the fight to find human traffickers after seeing an increasing trend in the country.

Herbert began seeing a trend in his courtroom and Lawson began learning about trafficking rings that were happening in his own state.

Herbert said Franklin County has spent millions of dollars arresting individuals on prostitution charges, Herbert said.

“I realized I handle a lot of these cases and they keep coming back,” Herbert said.

“I wanted to find out the processes, the influences, and the forces that make a woman (go into prostitution),” Herbert said.

He began to learn about the 72 percent of women trafficked who have suffered sexual and physical abuse in their lives, disassociative personality disorder that some of them suffer and other facts that disturbed him.

“One-third of all the women enter prostitution before the age of 15,” Herbert said.

“Sixty-two percent get into it before they are 18 years old. That’s before any of them can sign a contract or do anything legal.”

Prostitution and human trafficking are different offenses in the eyes of the law, but both Lawson and Herbert said prostitutes are often victims of human trafficking.

“I don’t want to speak diminutively of the prostitute,” Lawson said, speaking of one case of women being sold for sex in Ohio. “I want to tell you how disgusting the men are.”

Lawson talked about a federal law in which someone can be sentenced to 30-years in prison for leaving the country for the purposes of having sex with a minor.

As far as domestic trafficking, the laws aren’t as cut and dry.

A 11-year-old can’t consent to sexual conduct, but can be charged with prostitution, Lawson said.

“How does an 11-year-old end up adjudicated (for prostitution)?” Lawson said. “Are we missing it?”

The case of Aileen Mays was mentioned in Lawson’s presentation.

Mays, of Athens, is facing charges of compelling prostitution and trafficking in Athens County Common Pleas Court for allegedly taking a 16-year-old girl to the home of a registered sex offender.

The prosecution is accusing her of taking the girl to the home where Fred Kittle, the registered sex offenders, allegedly had sex with the girl and gave Mays drugs in exchange.

Mays, who has said she was not in control of the girl, is scheduled for trial in February.

Charges against Kittle were dismissed in municipal court, but the county prosecutor’s office has said they are still investigating the matter.

Herbert focused his presentation on the court program he helped create, Changing Actions to Change Habits, or CATCH.

The voluntary two-year program is “extremely intensive probation,” Herbert said, and helps women recently arrested on prostitution charges gather with other women facing the same struggles.

If the women are successful in the program, they can have the charges against them dismissed.

Perkins is a graduate of the CATCH program and now works for the prosecutor’s office that prosecuted her.

She was transferred to the program after being arrested in Athens County.

“I remember being locked to the wall at the place I work now,” Perkins said. “I owe my life to Judge Herbert and (Athens County) Judge (L. Alan) Goldsberry.”

Perkins now has custody of her son and is leading a new life, away from the lifestyle she once knew.

She still attends CATCH meetings and talks to other women going through what she did.

She and the other two who spoke on Friday wanted to see even more work done in the area of human trafficking awareness and enforcement.

A strong plan begins with education on a younger level, Lawson said.

“If we don’t tackle this on a juvenile level, it will mushroom,” Lawson said.

The speakers were brought in by the Athens County Child Advocacy Center in hopes of inspiring the creation of a local coalition.

Rebecca Robison-Miller, director of the center, asked that any law enforcement agencies or other community members that wanted to get involved contact the center.

Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle, who attended the meeting, said he would be happy to join a coalition.

He brought his investigative team and the department’s victim’s advocate to the seminar.

“It’s something I think we’ve all known about for a long time,” Pyle said. “But I had no idea it was to that level.”