More than 100 human trafficking survivors, including 45 missing children, have been recovered in Ohio and West Virginia, in what has been described as the state’s largest anti-human trafficking attempt, leading to 179 arrests.
Attorney General David Yost said the effort—Operation Autumn Hope—coordinated through Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, is the largest anti-human trafficking effort in state history. With more than 50 agencies coordinating together, the majority of arrests were made by the Central Ohio Human Trafficking task Force and the Marshal Service, in conjunction with the Office of the Ohio Attorney General.
During the October operation, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Trask Force, Columbus PACT Unit, and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force rescued 109 human trafficking victims and referred them for help to social services.
“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
President and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Center, Sondra Miller, was ready to aid the rescued victims. “Survivors of rape and sex trafficking deserve to be believed and have access to justice. By holding offenders accountable and reducing demand for human trafficking, this operation prevented many others from being harmed,” she said, as reported by AmericasFreedomFighters.
Two children were also rescued in Jackson County by the U.S. Marshals Service Office in Southern West Virginia. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives,” said Peter Tobin, a U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Ohio.
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested 22 individuals seeking to have sex with a minor. Those apprehended and charged with felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges include a pastor, students, and a rehabilitation resident advisor, reports AmericasFreedomFighters.
“These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community,” said Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin. “Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children.”
In Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Lucas counties, a total of 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes. Those arrested include an attorney, a fireman, an attorney, and a motivational speaker.
“The Dublin Police Department recognizes the importance of collaborating with local, state, and federal agencies in order to rid our communities of this painful exploitation of our fellow citizens,” Dublin Chief of Police Justin Páez said. “Through operations and efforts like this, we can hold people accountable as well as bring justice and support to victims of human trafficking.”
Sheriff Schilling of Cuyahoga County was proud to be part of Operation Autumn Hope. He said, “Let this operation be a warning for those who sell human beings, you are not welcome in Ohio or Cuyahoga County. For those who buy sexual services, the next door you knock on maybe an officer waiting to place you in handcuffs. For those of you who are being trafficked, reach out for help by contacting 911 in an emergency or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888)373-7888.”
Many other agencies and support networks participated in Operation Autumn Hope, making it a huge success. Columbus Division of Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight said people and organizations all working together are making a difference in tackling the fight against human trafficking.
“This multi-jurisdictional statewide collaboration between the Columbus Division of Police, other law enforcement agencies, and private partnerships is changing the dynamic in the fight against human trafficking in the state of Ohio. The Columbus Division of Police believes a comprehensive plan based on community partnerships is the only way to identify predators, rescue victims, and break the cycle of prostitution that impacts our neighborhoods,” said Knight.