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Ohio lawmakers going after johns to curb drugs

(February 22, 2018) — Ohio legislators are hoping to curb the state’s opioid epidemic by going after so-called “johns” with a pair of bills that would increase penalties for soliciting prostitutes.

House Bill 520, introduced by Reps. Adam C. Miller, D-Columbus, and Jim Hughes, R-Upper Arlington, would increase the penalty for solicitation from a third degree to a first degree misdemeanor. The bill would increase the potential jail time from 60 to 180 days, and increase the potential fine.

Senators Edna Brown, D-Toledo, and Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, also announced they would be sponsoring a sister bill in the Senate. The Senate Bill would increase the fine to $2,500 from the previous $500.

“Drug abuse consumes people’s lives, leaving them vulnerable and susceptible to fuel their addiction in any way they can,” Brown said in a statement. “As a result, we’ve seen a rise in prostitution among women suffering from addiction in our communities. Unfortunately, ‘johns’ know this and – because they face little more than a slap on the wrist as punishment — don’t hesitate to take advantage of women at some of their lowest points. It’s not right.”

Both bills would allow judges to designate a portion of the increased fine for the Ohio Victims of Human Trafficking fund.

The fund is comprised of money seized from sex trafficking operations and is used for treating, caring for “rehabilitating, educating, housing, and providing assistance for victims of trafficking in persons,” according to the Ohio Revised Code.

According to a release by the lawmakers, prostitution-related arrests in Ohio have increased by 30 percent in recent years.

Hughes said the bill is not just about cracking down on prostitution and solicitors, but also about helping victims of human trafficking and fighting Ohio’s opioid crisis.

Sharvari Karandikar, an associate professor at the Ohio State University College of Social Work, said there is a correlation between substance abuse and sex work, as well as human trafficking. Karandikar said penalizing solicitors rather than women in sex work and victims of human trafficking is a “step in the right direction.”

The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that combats modern slavery, says two thirds of human trafficking survivors who were addicted to opioids were already addicted by the time they fell victim, according to the press release.

Hughes called the legislation “cutting edge,” and Miller said the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill means the issue is important and impactful to Ohioans.

Ohio’s opioid epidemic claimed more 4000 lives in 2016 — a 36 percent increase from 2015. Many county coroners said 2017′s overdose deaths were outpacing 2016′s.

“If you listen to these women and what they’ve been going through, you know they need some help,” Hughes said.