Now, following high-profile busts in Toledo and a new state Attorney General report that documents cases across Ohio, local departments are teaming up with the FBI to go after groups that perpetrate these crimes.
"We want to attack these criminal organizations...that are actually trafficking our children, actually holding them against their will, through force and violence," said FBI spokesman Scott Wilson.
Human trafficking is a $9 billion industry nationwide, officials estimate. In Ohio, those dollars translate into roughly 2,000 adults and children being forced into prostitution and hard labor each year, a state Attorney General's Office report found.
That includes more than 1,000 Ohio children being turned into sex slaves.
Attorney General Richard Cordray said human trafficking is particularly prevalent in Ohio because "we are the crossroads of the Midwest" and victims can be sent to Chicago, Detroit, Canada and the East Coast.
There's also no end in sight, said state Rep. Kathleen Chandler (D-Kent).
"It's a growing crime, mainly because it's a very profitable crime and the penalties for committing this crime have been relatively minor, compared to drug trafficking," said Chandler.
In the past, she said, police arrested the victim and failed to look into the bigger picture of organized crime involvement. Even if they arrested the pimp, police would often charge them with forced prostitution.
A bill sponsored by Chandler would make human trafficking a felony with stiff prison terms and increase training for police. The FBI estimates more than 100 organized crime syndicates force both American-born and foreign adults and children into slavery each year, Wilson said.
They do it through physical and psychological control, sometimes threatening the families of victims if they don't succumb, officials said.
Once they get control of a victim, human traffickers often ship them all over the country so victims don't know where they are or how to contact police.
In Toledo, a special police unit has rescued 60 children forced into prostitution. An FBI sting also found Toledo pimps were shipping children all over the country as prostitutes, including Harrisburg, Pa.
That's where they convicted 15 pimps of using violence to force 151 victims, including 45 children, to perform sex acts for clients at a truck stop.
"Once they fall into the clutches of the wrong people, they can be drugged, they can be blackmailed, they can be compelled (and) taken to different locations...where they have no foundation whatsoever and, at that point, is really no different than the kind of slavery that we had in the 19th Century in the United States," Cordray said.