COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Statewide human trafficking stings by multiple law enforcement agencies over the weekend found exploited teenagers in Columbus, and saw 56 people across Ohio arrested.
Called Operation Time’s Up, it happens annually as investigators look for people trying to buy sex from both adults and minors, Attorney General Dave Yost said. Agents in the sting also investigated massage parlors in Cleveland for illicit activity, and got the U.S. Marshals Service involved in a statewide search for missing children.
Specifically in Columbus, agents with the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force handled a sting operation at a hotel, according to local police. The agents had looked through websites showing illegal escort advertisements and found one containing pictures of an underage girl.
The agents figured out that the escort was an exploited 16-year-old girl from the Toledo area, and rescued her, the Columbus Division of Police said. They found another 19-year-old escort from Toledo during this process as well, and referred them to victim services.
Yost said that members of the task force arrested two men as a result of the escort rescue.
“These two fellas brought these underage children all the way from Toledo down to Columbus with the intent of trafficking them, answering this ad,” Yost said. “So they’ve been charged with first-degree felony human trafficking and they’re looking at very serious charges, and rightly so.”
Out of all of the arrests over the weekend, 21 of them were in connection with felony charges including attempted sexual conduct with a minor. Many of the other 35 people arrested face charges of engaging in prostitution, according to Yost. If convicted, they will have to go through “john school,” or human trafficking education.
Yost also mentioned that as officers found men and women offering to sell sex, they interviewed them and offered medical and social services from nonprofits, to try and “pull victims out of the trafficking trap.” Tips from these interviews can also help law enforcement with future stings, as they can identify traffickers that investigators can follow up on and get indictments.
Neither Yost nor CPD released the names of any of the people arrested during Operation Time’s Up.