Op-ed: Indiana is a hub for sex trafficking. But Hoosiers can help rescue victims.
Since 2007, there have been over 1,700 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline regarding Indiana victims.
The first step to stopping sex trafficking is recognizing that this crime occurs in every state. Since 2007, there have been over 1,700 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline regarding Indiana victims. Of last year’s calls, over 40 percent involved child victims. In 2016, the Indiana Attorney General’s office identified 178 trafficked youth.
But what often keeps me up at night are the victims who haven’t yet been found.
Indiana is a hub for sex trafficking partially because of the accessibility of interstate travel, which offers the fastest route from Chicago to Atlanta. Indiana is also home to major sporting events, like the Indy 500, which can sometimes bring a spike in sex trafficking. During the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, authorities launched 68 human trafficking investigations.
Contrary to popular misunderstandings, the majority of victims are not locked in a basement. Most are frequently in public; and yet victims might not run away whether because they are being threatened, are trapped by drug addiction, fear arrest or believe they have nowhere else to go. Many do not even identify as victims. Teenage girls especially are often lured by older men who pretend, at first, to have fallen in love with them.
The reality, though, is that sex trafficking has nothing to do with love. Not only is it a crime — it’s also a trade. In larger trafficking rings, traffickers have recruiters whose sole responsibility is to find new girls for the operation.
Indiana residents have a critical role to play in rescuing victims of sex trafficking. Here are some things to look out for:
• In Public: Victims can be of all ages, gender and race. However, teenage girls in particular tend to fall prey to traffickers. The 2016 Indiana State Report on Human Trafficking found that 94 percent of identified victims under 21 were girls; 60 percent were white, and 30 percent were 15 or younger. These victims may be traveling with an adult male who does not appear to be a parent; they may look to him when spoken to, and they may be dressed provocatively for their age.
• Schools: Teachers are in the unique position of being able to recognize changes in behavior that may indicate that a child is being trafficked. They should look for frequent absences, signs of sleep or food deprivation, or children who are showing off new, expensive possessions they can’t afford. Teenage girls may talk about their older “boyfriends.”
• Medical Centers: Studies have shown that 88 percent of trafficking victims see a medical professional while being trafficked. Besides physical abuse, medical professionals should be alert to signs of botched abortions; in one study, more than half of sex trafficking victims reported having had an abortion. Sex trafficking victims are also often branded with tattoos, like a pimp’s street name or initials; diamonds, dollar signs, or crowns; barcodes on the neck; or alpha-numeric codes on the upper arm.
• Hotels and transportation: Hotel staff and drivers for services like Uber and Lyft may be the first to notice a significant age difference between a man and the woman, or girl, accompanying him. According to a study by the Demanding Justice Project, the average age for entry into the commercial sex trade is 14 years old, but the average age of a buyer is 40 years old. Additionally, guests who pay for their rooms in cash, don’t have any luggage or reject housekeeping services may be sex buyers.
When you see something, say something. It might just save a life.
Kevin Malone is the president and co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, a nonprofit, faith-based organization committed to ending human trafficking in America.