By Mikhaila Fogel, Intern and Samantha Searls, Program Manager
12/18/20 Update: The Ohio General Assembly passed a law similar to SB 13! Ohio’s law now includes 16- and 17-year olds in the definition of child sex trafficking!
4/20/20 Update: Alexis has been released! Thank you Gov. DeWine for commuting Alexis’ sentence!
Original Post: In 2015, a teenage victim of sex trafficking was sentenced to 21 years to life in prison for a crime that occurred during an attempt to escape from her trafficker. Alexis Martin was 15 years old at the time, and despite Alexis’s age, she was tried in the Ohio court system as an adult.
Alexis was kidnapped at the age of 14 and forced into sex trafficking by a man named Angelo Kerney. Kerney threatened to hurt her and her family if she tried to leave him. Alexis was able to tell her parents, friends, and probation officer that she was being sold for sex by Kearney, but no one did anything to help her.
According to Ohio’s Safe Harbor law passed in 2012, minors under the age of 16 do not need to prove that they were compelled to engage in commercial sexual activity; they are automatically considered victims of child sex trafficking. The statute requires juvenile courts to appoint a guardian ad litem for child trafficking victims. This means that the defendant is assigned a professional, other than a parent or attorney, who is responsible for advocating in the best interest of the child on trial. Neither the juvenile court nor Alexis’s attorney knew about the Safe Harbor law when she was transferred to adult court, so the juvenile court did not follow the procedures or consider sentencing alternatives that reflect Alexis’s status as a trafficking victim.
While we continue to advocate for Alexis’ release, we turn to look at how Ohio’s Safe Harbor laws can be better. Currently, Ohio is only state left in the country that does not consider 16 and 17-year-olds as victims of child sex trafficking.
Advocates in Ohio are trying to pass Senate Bill 13 to provide extended protection under the law to 16 and 17-year-olds who are thought to be victims of child sex trafficking. The bill passed the Ohio Senate unanimously in July of 2019, but is now stuck in an Ohio House committee.