INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WANE)--Indianapolis is hosting football's biggest celebration this year: The Super Bowl. But there's a much darker side to the big game you may not know about.
Young girls, some not even teenagers, are being sold into sex. It's called human trafficking and state leaders expect it to invade Indiana during the Super Bowl.
"Human trafficking is an ongoing problem, it's a national problem, and it's a lot more vast than any of us realized when we started studying it," said Randy Head, Indiana state senator for district 18. "We think the Super Bowl is the greatest and the largest human trafficking event in the country if not the world. It's happened in Dallas, it happened in Miami, and we're trying to head it off here."
Girls as young as 12 to 14 are being shipped to Super Bowl host cities and sold as prostitutes to meet the demand for sex at the event. And it's getting worse. Leaders say the past two Super Bowls, in Miami and Dallas, have seen an increasing amount of human trafficking.
"This is pure supply and demand," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "The operators of these enterprises will use these kids as commodities, bring them to a community, and will literally sell them to people who are partying and having a good time and think there's nothing wrong with what they're doing."
It's estimated on the low end 20,000 kids are sold for sex in the United States every year. On the high end, 300,000 kids are sold in the U.S. every year. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is a national leader on the issue.
"They've always looked at prostitutes as criminals," Zoeller said. "Well if you look behind that you'll begin to see that many prostitutes were brought into it in a very young age, as early as 12 to 14. Once they become part of the system it's very difficult to get these young girls away from it."
So in an attempt to save Indiana from the disturbing trend, legislators took aim at the problem's roots.
"We're aiming at the organizers," said Senator Head. "These are sophisticated rings. They have business plans. They trade girls back and forth from city to city. They're highly sophisticated and very well run. We're trying to go up the ladder and get those people instead of just settling for the people on the street."
That's why legislators created harsher punishment for the people trafficking prostitutes. Senator Head authored legislation that closed up three legal loopholes for sex traffickers. It also moves sex trafficking to a class A felony.
"We're trying to add decades onto a sentence for someone who would even think about engaging in this sort of thing," Senator Head said.
State lawmakers rushed through Senator Head's legislation. Governor Daniels signed it into law Monday.
Law enforcement has been trained to know what to look for and isn't revealing its game plan in stopping the crimes. But sadly, there's still the demand.
"Not only the pimp or the operator, but the customer can be prosecuted because it's illegal," said Allen. "It's a violation of the rights of the child."
That's where the community comes in. Zoeller, Colts Center Jeff Saturday, and other leaders signed a pledge "Recognizing that men create the demand for prostituted young girls and children and that better men have to end the demand..."
In the pledge are three calls to action:
- "I will not purchase or participate in prostitution or any form of the commercial sex industry."
- "I will hold my friends accountable for their actions and demand they show respect toward women and children."
- "I will stand up and take action to protect the vulnerable from this destructive market."
"It's not just not-buying a prostitute," Zoeller said. "That's one way of stopping it. But we really need better men to stand up and speak out against it so that people recognize that it's not going to be tolerated. It's no longer socially acceptable."
The pledge was a first of its kind surrounding the Super Bowl, placing a call to action directly on the community to speak up and speak out against a problem leaders say mustn't be ignored.
"Better men need to stand up and speak out against the demand of purchased sex," Zoeller said.
Authorities say if you see big groups of kids on streets or in hotel lobbies and it looks suspicious, don't assume there's an innocent explanation. Call the police.
If you would like to take the pledge or get your community to take the pledge against human trafficking, click here .
If you would like to get involved with the fight against human trafficking, click on one of the organizations below:
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