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179 arrested in Ohio anti-human trafficking sting 'Operation Autumn Hope'

The Ohio Attorney General’s office on Monday announced the completion of a campaign against human trafficking, called “Operation Autumn Hope,” that resulted in 179 arrests and 109 victims rescued. 

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) said in a press release that the operation, coordinated by the attorney general’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, included more than 50 law enforcement agencies and other organizations as part of a mission to end sex trafficking across the state. 

According to the news release, the jointly led operation had four primary goals: rescuing human trafficking victims, recovering missing and exploited children, apprehending those looking to have sex with a minor and arresting those looking to buy sex with a minor. 

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The 109 victims rescued by the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Columbus PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force were referred to social services, according to the press release. 

“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said in the release. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio.”

“Don’t buy sex in Ohio!” the attorney general added. 

As a result of the operation, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, including a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing by the Lancaster Police Department and was found in Columbus within six hours, according to Yost’s office. 

“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, said in the release. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”

In August, the Ohio “Operation Safety Net” led to the rescue of 25 children aged 13 to 18 in just three weeks after its launch, according to the U.S. Marshals Office. 

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That same month, “Operation Not Forgotten” in Georgia recovered 39 children aged 3 to 17, with nine people arrested at the time. 

In Indiana, eight missing children were rescued during "Operation Homecoming" in September. 

According to data collected by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, and out of the 23,500 cases of endangered young people reported to the organization in 2019, one in every six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. 

The center reported that in 2019, it had provided assistance to law enforcement and families in connection to more than 29,000 missing children cases.