COLUMBUS, Ohio – A firefighter, college professor and a Cleveland-area city councilman were among 161 people arrested in a sex sting operation last week, described as the state’s largest focused on human trafficking.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, law enforcement officials from multiple counties, social service providers and former human trafficking victims met in the Ohio Statehouse on Monday to talk about the initiative.

Yost stated that the “Operation Ohio Knows”, a week-long sting was meant to discourage those seeking sex for profit or pay.

“We want to send a message to everybody in the country: Don’t buy sex in Ohio,” he said.

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‘Operation Ohio Knows’

Police officers spread across the state to communicate with hundreds of men who were seeking sex. For every arrest made, officers contacted up to eight “johns” whose actions didn’t meet the elements of any crime, said Chief Deputy Rick Minerd of the Franklin County sheriff’s office.

Three of the perpetrators were willing to pay to have sex with people they thought were minors. Ten minors reported missing were recovered during a simultaneous operation carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Social service advocates provided support to 51 women who were deemed likely victims. The number of women charged was not known.

The majority of the people arrested were accused of engaging in prostitution. This is a first-degree misdemeanor. Others related to guns and drugs were also charged. 

In spring, a change to state law required that those who were convicted must be educated about human trafficking.

Yost stated that “we cannot arrest our own way out of humantrafficking”, but noted that deterrence is still important. Trafficking will cease if there aren’t buyers.

It’s not an innocuous crime, he wants everyone to understand.

He said, “When you are the purchaser, you don’t know who you’re dealing.” The pimp or trafficker doesn’t appear and just sit there watching. The survivor doesn’t tell you, ‘I don’t want to do this, but if I don’t, I’m going to be beat’ or ‘He’s going to withhold my drugs.’

“Because we don’t know, anybody in Ohio who purchases sex is assuming the risk that they’re complicit in trafficking.”

Human trafficking survivor Mandie Knight spoke via Zoom about her former lifestyle and her gratitude at being arrested.

“Had I not been arrested, had I not gone to jail and had I not suffered some consequences for the decisions I was making, I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be as successful in life,” said Knight, a wife, mother and student in forensic criminology.

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Arrested city councilman: ‘An enormous mistake’

Mark Jessie, a councilman running for reelection Nov. 2 in Elyria, Ohio, a city roughly 30 miles outside Cleveland, was picked up in the sting.

On Monday, he said, “I take this seriously” and that he realized it was a big mistake. Jessie said he sought sex from someone he thought was selling it on a website.

Officers arrested him and he stated, “There was an immediate sensation of wanting to throw-up and an immediate sense of facing the consequences together with my family members and friends.”

Kandy Fatheree, Summit County Sheriff, cautioned her fellow officers not to rely on the sting operation alone.

“This is only the beginning, not the ending. And I feel that we have so many work ahead of us across the entire state,” she stated.

Follow Dean Narciso, the reporter on Twitter @deannarciso

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