Sex trafficking is still largest growing crime, but awareness efforts making new strides


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Human trafficking is a growing crime across the world, country and Indiana. But everyone from lawmakers to community members are taking notice and taking action.

“We’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg.” – Jeremy Greenlee, Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program 

The Indiana Attorney General recently announced he’s adding more police officers and prosecutors to the state’s human trafficking investigations unit in hopes of making human trafficking in Indiana a thing of the past.

One year ago, 15 Finds Out exposed the prevalence of sex trafficking in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. Since that eye-opening investigation, police said they’ve had an increase in tips of possible cases. But while police work hard every day to rescue victims and arrest traffickers, the crime is not gone yet. There were ads for girls in Fort Wayne posted on line just this week. 

“Trafficking does occur. It occurs in our city,” Capt. Kevin Hunter with the Fort Wayne Police Department Vice and Narcotics Division said.

Human trafficking is expected to soon pass the drug trade as the largest worldwide crime in the next few years, if it hasn’t already.

“We rescue less than one percent of the kids, so how do we know it hasn’t surpassed it,” Dr. Kalyani Gopal, a researcher for SAFE Coalition for Human Rights, said. .

New and expanded efforts across Indiana, though, are working hard to put an end to trafficking.

In 2017, the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program (ITVAP) gave human trafficking training to 10,090 adults and 1,900 youth across the state. Of those, 1,218 adults and 660 youth were in northeast Indiana.

“What we’re finding is the more education we do, the more cases are being reported because people recognize it more. That’s why education is such an important piece of this because there are a lot of people who don’t realize it happens in Fort Wayne and the surrounding counties,” Jeremy Greenlee, a regional coalition coordinator for ITVAP, said.

Hunter agreed that education is a big factor in the battle against human trafficking.

“It’s huge. There are some agencies trying to educate health care providers so if a victim goes to an emergency room, maybe asking a few other questions might uncover a trafficking case,” Capt. Hunter said.

Greenlee added that anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of trafficking victims say they visited a hospital or urgent care clinic while they were being trafficked.

“If our health care providers can get better at identifying the red flags, hopefully we can get them out sooner,” he said.

Here are common signs of human trafficking:

Last October, the FBI and Fort Wayne police rescued 12 women in Fort Wayne and stopped four traffickers. Another 13 women were also rescued in South Bend. While police are working hard to help victims get out of their situations and put traffickers behind bars, it’s not a problem that will be solved quickly.

“Many times these victims are so traumatized it takes a long time to build trust and establish rapor and get the total information on a case, so it’s not something that can be done in an hour,” Hunter said.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports from January to June of last year, there were 167 calls to the hotline in Indiana and 50 trafficking cases were reported, identifying a possible 90 victims. But how many cases there really are is hard to tell.

“The tragedy is we don’t have numbers. They’re either inflated or under-reported,” she said.

Dr. Gopal said the SAFE Coalition for Human Rights plans to soon fund a statewide study to get a better picture of human trafficking in Indiana

Despite a lot of efforts, everyone agrees we haven’t turned the corner on sex trafficking  yet.

“[It’s going to take] more education. More enforcement. More eyes out there looking for these types of things. Because if you dont’ know what to look for, you may see it and just not notice it,” Hunter said.

**Action Steps We Can All Do NOW**

  • Talk About it: I can’t share it with the whole world, but I can share it with my world. In other words, talk to your friends and share information about Human Trafficking awareness events.
  • Be a Positive Adult for Youth in Your Community: Invest in our kids! Sign up to become a mentor, coach or become a foster parent.
  • Support Fair Trade Practice: Make informed decisions about your purchases; intentionally purchase from companies who make efforts to ensure their supply chains are free from child slavery and force labor. Example: buy fair-trade coffee or chocolate
  • Connect Your Community to State Resources: If you know of organizations that would benefit from trainings on human trafficking, help connect t hem to ITVAP.
  • Be an Advocate: Contact your legislator to promote stronger public policy affecting human trafficking issues.
  • Get Involved in Your Local Effort: The Anti-Trafficking Network of Northeast Indiana meets regularly to coordinate regional anti-trafficking efforts and collaborates with the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans Taskforce (IPATH). for more information.
  • Speak UP and REPORT: if you see warning signs, take action and report to one of the hotlines listed below.

                            ****Action Steps Provided by the Anti-Trafficking Network of Northeast Indiana

Ultimately, stopping demand is what will stop sex trafficking. Police try to target buyers in stings, but also say we need to change the dialogue and call it what it is.

Buying sex with a woman who is there under force, fraud or coercion is rape.

When society starts to change the culture, and agree that buying sex is not okay, only then can there be a true start to stopping human trafficking.


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