Child trafficking and statutory sexual assault have become hot-button topics in recent months. Many Americans were previously unaware of how many children go missing in a year and how many children face exploitation and trafficking.
With increased public awareness came pressure on both lawmakers and law enforcement agencies to look into trafficking and help recover missing children. A recent operation in Ohio has helped to recover at least 25 children and could easily result in criminal charges for adults involved in coercing those children or teenagers out of their households or actively trafficking them.
U.S. Marshalls found children across the state and outside of it
Many people think that trafficking might involve someone following them around at the store and then shoving them into a van when they try to leave. However, trafficking often starts with someone voluntarily leaving their home or at least voluntarily meeting with the person who intends to traffic them.
Many of the children involved in “Operation Safety Net” were listed as runaways but may have been vulnerable to predation and trafficking because of factors such as their age or lack of community ties. Overall, Marshalls successfully located and rescued 35 children between the ages of 13 and 18 who had previously gone missing from Ohio in this recent effort. At least 20% were directly linked to human trafficking, and some were found as far away as Florida.
Someone just trying to help might wind up facing charges in a trafficking sting
There is a fine line between someone helping or exploiting a runaway teenager, and the teens themselves may not be able to tell the difference. It can be difficult for law enforcement professionals to sort out actual predators from those who are simply present in the lives of runaway or vulnerable children and teenagers.
Someone who provided housing or financial support for a teen who has left home could wind up arrested as an accused trafficker when their only intention was to help a teenager struggling to live on their own. Many teens run away because of an unpleasant or unsupportive home environment, and there are certainly adults who knowingly take legal risks to help these struggling young adults. Anyone facing serious criminal charges, including trafficking charges, will likely require legal help.