COLUMBUS — The number of investigations into suspected trafficking swelled last year to the highest level in Ohio’s history

Ohio’s state attorney general’s Human Trafficking Commission released a report on Monday that revealing police investigated 202 potential cases of human trafficking in 2017, up nearly 50 percent from the year before. The vast majority involved the sex trade.

But the number of arrests decreased to 70, the lowest since 2013 as reported a Toledo news agency The Blade.

“You may have investigations in one year, and then you may have a conviction in another year,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine. “I still believe that human trafficking convictions are being grossly underreported because, frankly, they’re not charging human trafficking. They’re charging something else.”

He said ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the suspect is prosecuted for the specific crime of “trafficking in persons.”

“The most important thing is the victim be saved and not have to exist under those circumstances,” Mr. DeWine said. “The second thing is the person is punished and segregated from society so that they won’t do this again.”

The Victims:

  • 208 people were identified as potential victims. They were most likely to be female, white, and between the ages of 21 and 29. Thirty-eight people were minors under the age of 18. Two were 13 or younger.

The Suspected Traffickers:

  • 221 suspected traffickers, all but 10 of them believed to be engaged in the sex trade. Ten were involved in forced labor. The traffickers were most likely to be male, black, and between the ages of 21 and 29. Four were minors themselves.

The Customers:

  • 257 people identified as customers of the trafficking were overwhelmingly male, white, and between the ages of 41 and 59. Most of them, 183, were suspected of buying sex while 74 were consumers of forced labor.

Mr. DeWine said Ohio’s opioid addiction crisis and human trafficking go hand in hand. “Drugs are used to control,” he said. “Because opioids are so addictive, it makes it easier for a pimp, makes it easier for a human-trafficker to control a victim. They control a victim’s income, money, but they also control the drugs. The drugs are the most powerful.”

Ohio has been at the forefront of research and law enforcement since a federal sting in 2005 in Harrisburg, Pa., put Toledo on the map with cities like Miami and Las Vegas as major recruiting hubs for the sex trade.  Statistically, 177 women and girls were caught up in that sting, 77 of the females were from the Toledo area.