Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Monday that 161 people were arrested and 51 potential human trafficking victims were helped as part of a weeklong, state-wide anti-human trafficking operation that culminated Friday.
The anti-human trafficking sting, Operation Ohio Knows, was the largest in Ohio’s history, according to a news release on Yost’s website.
Among the 161 people arrested were three who were seeking to buy sex from minors. Others that Yost mentioned were a teacher, a firefighter, a professor, a pilot, a home improvement contractor, a city council member and a man who had a two-year-old in his car when he was apprehended.
“This is not just something that happens down in the ‘hood in this city,” Yost said in a 53-minute news conference that he held on Monday at the Ohio Statehouse. “It’s in every county. It’s in every town. This is happening all over Ohio. Poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods. Educated, uneducated. Black, white. It doesn’t matter.”
“It happens everywhere, and that’s why this fight is so important. And I will not rest until no one in Ohio buys or sells human beings,” he said.
The sting was a collaboration, which Yost called “a collegial effort,” among nearly 100 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies partnering with both nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations. Its aim was to decrease the demand for those seeking to pay for sex rather than focus on the individuals who sell it.
Yost referred to a recent Ohio statute that makes the punishment for buying sex more severe, thereby targeting the demand side of the sex trafficking trade. It also requires those convicted to undergo human trafficking education, according to the Meigs Independent Press.
“People who traffic other humans are doing it for a really simple reason — money,” Yost said during the news conference. “And if there’s no market, if there are no buyers, there will be no trafficking.”
Yost acknowledged that the goal of completely eradicating the demand for purchased sex in Ohio “is probably a little bit of a tall order.”
“But reducing the demand means that we reduce the number of people who are victimized by human trafficking,” he said.
Among those busted in Ohio over the past week was Democratic Councilman Mark Jessie of Elyria, a city about 20 miles southwest of Cleveland. According to WKYC-TV, he faces a misdemeanor for the charge of soliciting prostitution. Even though the charge won’t get him removed from the city council, he is up for re-election next month.
Elyria city councilman Mark Jessie, now charged in a massive statewide prostitution sting, a no-show at tonight’s council meeting. Mayor expressed concern over community trust in officials, council prez said the group doesn’t condone such actions but wants to let it all play out. pic.twitter.com/xl4khD12AJ
— Jim Nelson (@JimNelsonTV) October 4, 2021
Another “John” was Randal Frazier, a music teacher at St. Matthew Catholic School in Gahanna. The school terminated Frazier’s employment on Sept. 27, WBNS-TV reported.
Firefighter Andrew Bartnikowski, from the Columbus Division of Fire, was charged with “counts of engaging in prostitution,” according to the outlet. After he responded to an online advertisement to pay for sex and sent multiple text messages and calls, undercover police posing as prostitutes nabbed him.
During his news conference, Yost told of a pilot, making a salary of $200,000, who police caught. He was “not only purchasing sex; he haggled. He got the price down to 15 bucks,” Yost said.
Other than the 161 who were arrested for trying to buy sex, 50 individuals — both men and women — offering to sell sex were also arrested, according to Yost’s news release. Additionally, law enforcement interviewed 51 potential human trafficking victims, who were offered health care and social services.
“It’s important to remember that in every one of these situations, there is a survivor, a victim, who needs to be not revictimized but aided, supported and helped,” Yost said.
The attorney general acknowledged that simply making arrests isn’t the answer. “We cannot arrest our way out of human trafficking,” he said.
Also at the news conference was Mandie Knight, a human trafficking survivor, who expressed gratitude for the role that law enforcement played in her journey out of the lifestyle. Knight is now a wife and mother, a forensic criminology student and a resource manager for Freedom a la Cart, a catering business that employs human trafficking survivors, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“Had I not been arrested, had I not gone to jail and had I not suffered some consequences for my actions and the role that I played in the decisions I was making, I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be as successful in life,” she said.
The U.S. Marshals also performed a simultaneous operation, recovering 10 missing children, according to Yost’s news release.
Operation Ohio Knows was Ohio’s third sex trafficking sting over the past year: Operation 614 in April resulted in 93 arrests with 53 victims helped, and Operation Autumn Hope” in October 2020 ended with 157 arrests, 109 victims helped and 45 missing children found.