Human traffickers could face life sentences under new Ohio House bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill in the Ohio House would significantly toughen prison sentences for those convicted of trafficking minors and the developmentally disabled, as well as expand the law to include cases involving teenage victims.

Under House Bill 377, introduced last week by Republican state Reps. Josh Williams of the Toledo area and Nick Santucci of Trumbull County, people convicted of a range of human trafficking-related crimes, including some involving kidnapping and rape, would face a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison, or 15 years to life in cases where they released their victims unharmed.

Currently, Ohio’s sentencing guidelines for such crimes are the same as for other second- or first-degree felonies, which call for prison sentences of two to eight years and three to 11 years, respectively.

Right now, Ohio law only allows suspects to be charged with such crimes if the victim is younger than 13 or is “mentally incompetent.” HB377 would expand that to include cases involving any victim younger than 18.

“We look at those potential life sentences as a deterrent,” Williams said in an interview, noting that Ohio already has life sentences for certain murder and rape offenses. “We want to recognize the true trauma that happens to the victims of human trafficking that can be lifelong.”

Williams said he and Santucci have been working on the bill since they each took office last year. He said the bill intentionally “leave(s) holes for prosecutors to be able to wheel and deal and plea bargain.”

Williams said the next step for the legislation is to have meetings with interested parties, and for a House committee to review the measure. The bill already has substantial support, with 37 additional House members from both parties co-sponsoring the bill.