Sex trafficking is happening ‘in our own communities,’ and victims often know their trafficker

Crime

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Sex trafficking continues to be a growing issue in northeast Indiana and the United States.

Early Wednesday, a Fort Wayne woman was charged with trafficking a 16-year-old girl and getting her addicted to drugs, according to court records.

Jeremy Greenlee is the Region 3 Coalition Coordinator for the Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program. He said there are several myths when it comes to human trafficking.

“The big myth about trafficking is that only happens overseas,” Greenlee said. “What we see with the cases that we deal with are involving people from our own communities that are being trafficked and purchased by men from our own communities.”

The Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program defines sex trafficking as: the recruiting, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of commercial sex act in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18 years old.

According to the 2020 Indiana State Report on Human Trafficking, there have been documented cases of forced marriage, forced labor, and sex trafficking of minors and adults across all 92 counties in Indiana.

In 2019, 157 Indiana human trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline – a 19 percent increase from the previous year.

During an interview with WANE 15, Greenlee referenced a study conducted by Covenant House that interviewed survivors. In that study, 91 percent of the survivors reported the trafficker was someone they knew. Out of that group, a majority of survivors, 33 percent, said the person was an immediate relative, which included parents, siblings, and/or spouses.

“The smallest percent was a stranger, which was 9 percent,” Greenlee said. “That’s just one study, and we have to be careful how much we draw from that, but we do see similar trends in the cases we work.”

Indiana does not have a centralized reporting mechanism, so there is no data that comprehensively illustrates the scope of human trafficking in the state. Greenlee said there are also cases that go unreported.

There are several red flags to look for when it comes to human trafficking:

  • Chronic truant/runaway and/or homeless youth
  • Branding (tattoos, jewelry)
  • Excess cash and/or goods/services they cannot afford
  • Someone else has control of their ID; inconsistencies
  • Multiple hotel keys or cell phones
  • Lack of knowledge of their whereabouts
  • Scripted/restricted communication
  • Controlling adult/partner
  • Signs of physical, sexual or psychological trauma

WANE 15’s 15 Finds Out investigative team took an in-depth look at human trafficking in an award-winning series, “Hidden Predators,” in 2017. Visit the 15 Finds Out page on WANE.com to read each story.

If you suspect human trafficking, you can reach out to the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline (DCS) at 1-800-800-5556 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888. You can text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.

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