Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday joined federal, state and local law enforcement partners to announce the success of a statewide anti-human trafficking operation called Operation Autumn Hope.
Yost reported that last week’s operation rescued 154 victims of human trafficking and resulted in the arrests of 179 men for illegally soliciting sex and other related crimes.
The operation was coordinated through AG Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, a news release said, and encompassed more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners “to break the cycle that fuels sex trafficking across the state.”
The release said the effort, carried out in various parts of the state simultaneously, identified four priorities:
- Rescuing victims of human trafficking and referring them to social services
- Recovering missing and exploited children
- Apprehending those seeking to have sex with a minor
- Arresting male johns seeking to buy sex
“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 in the release. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
During the 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 to social services, the release said.
“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”
Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Center, whose agency was part of the social services network prepared to aid the rescued victims, said: “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.”
Across southern Ohio, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, including 45 by physical recovery by the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Among those missing included a 15-year-old girl missing from Cleveland whose recovery linked her and other possible victims to an individual in Columbus suspected of human trafficking; a 15-year-old male with two warrants who is a suspect in multiple shootings and a homicide; and a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing by the Lancaster Police Department who was recovered in Columbus within six hours of being reported missing, the release said.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “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.”
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin Count Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force apprehended 22 individuals seeking to have sex with a minor. Those arrested 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, the release said.
“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, 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes — a component of Operation Autumn Hope focused on reducing the demand for sex. Those arrested were charged with soliciting and other charges included a fireman, an attorney and a motivational speaker.