Human-trafficking was not on anyone’s radar screen in Columbus, or Central Ohio for that matter. That changed when a journalist from Columbus, Ohio made lawmakers realize how big of a problem it was.
Alan Johnson a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch started covering human trafficking 10 years ago. He had no clue his story would take over 3 months of reporting before it got published. But once it appeared, people took notice.
“It was impactful in that it brought the subject to the public’s vision for the first time in maybe forever,” Johnson said. “It brought the subject to the forefront in the legislature where it had been kind of lingering because a lot of the male legislators didn’t believe it.”
The story woke up the Ohio legislature and lawmakers scrambled to craft laws designed to combat human-trafficking. The first bill emerged soon after Johnson’s story appeared, putting a legal definition to human-trafficking and making it illegal to force someone to perform sex acts for personal gain. Subsequent bills added penalties for those convicted of the crime. Even so, it’s not enough, Johnson said.
“They still haven’t cracked down enough on the men who are the customers of these trafficked young ladies and boys,” Johnson said. “You don’t have a trafficking act without sex and you don’t have sex typically without a male customer, at least in a majority of the cases.”
Alan Johnson talking about how young girls are auctioned to the highest bidder for sex.
Johnson has enough experience covering this issue—he’s written over 20 stories about it—he has his own ideas about how to combat trafficking.
“If you see somebody, particularly a young woman and she is clearly submitting to a person, she’s not talking, she’s being ordered around, or if she shows any signs of bruising or injuries, you should at least be suspicious,” Johnson said.
Johnson refers to a state study published in 2012 which noted that a little over a thousand young people were being trafficked in Ohio. The study found out of many statistics that a little over a third of those involved in the sex trade in the state’s five biggest cities entered before they turned 18.
“[The study] was done by a professor from Toledo, who’s an expert on this,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think it’s in anyway completely accurate. I think it’s a lot larger than that.”
The published stories Johnson has done for the Dispatch have increased more and more awareness on human trafficking for readers and lawmakers. Even this year, Johnson still covers human trafficking, writing stories that continue to inform readers.