Blog: Seeking Justice for Children

The Seeking Justice for Children blog is a collaborative effort among attorneys, academics, and other advocates for children's rights. To submit an item for posting, please email Kimberly Jordan, director of the Justice for Children Project, at jordan.723@osu.edu.


From the Briefing Room

Using Safe Harbor — It Starts with Training

1409595_99556189Last year, the Ohio Legislature passed the Safe Harbor Law, which includes a provision geared toward diverting juvenile victims of human trafficking from the court system. This follows increasing efforts by states across the country to more effectively address the crisis. As Megan Mattimoe, the legal director of Advocating Opportunity who assisted in crafting the statute, notes, “Nationally, juvenile justice trends are shifting away from detaining and incarcerating minors, particularly human trafficking victims.”

But, like the new Trafficking in Persons statute, the Safe Harbor Law is not as well-known or as often-used as it could be.

“Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law was drafted to provide courts with a statutory mechanism to monitor and provide trauma-informed services to minors who are human trafficking victims,” Mattimoe explains. Ohio Revised Code 2152.021(f)(3) now requires a court to appoint a guardian ad litem in any case where there is reason to believe a juvenile has been trafficked or where a juvenile has been charged with the equivalent of an adult loitering, solicitation, or prostitution charge. Additionally, under Ohio Revised Code 2152.021(f)(1), the court may hold a hearing to determine whether to hold the complaint in abeyance while the juvenile is provided an opportunity to engage in programming and treatment geared toward recovery. Upon successful completion of the diversion actions, the complaint is dismissed and any records pertaining to the case are expunged.

The purpose of the law is to rehabilitate juvenile victims of trafficking instead of punishing them for their exploitation. For the law to actually be effective, however, all parties must not only know about the statute but also must be be able to identify a potential human trafficking victim. Victims rarely admit they are being trafficked for a variety of reasons, including trauma-bonding and fear of the repercussions of talking about their exploiter. This makes the training of judges, magistrates, prosecutors, and defense attorneys essential to the effort to rescue and restore these children.

“Courts which fail to apply Ohio’s Safe Harbor provisions not only re-victimize these children, but deny them the benefits of added court involvement and services, and likely return them to a life of continued exploitation without any help,” warns Mattimoe.