Human trafficking more widespread in Indiana than available data indicates

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Awareness surrounding human trafficking surges over Super Bowl Weekend. That’s because a lot of it happens around the cities that host the big game.

Fort Wayne Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Captain Kevin Hunter said that back in 2012 when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium, there was an uptick in trafficking cases in the state.

But the issue goes far beyond any sporting event. Human trafficking happens 365 days a year.

“This is a weekend where trafficking gets highlighted in a huge way across the country, but the reality is the people who are trafficking on Sunday are the same ones who are right back at it Monday morning,” said Chris Russell, National Director of Development of Destiny Rescue.

Human trafficking is the use or threat of force, fraud or coercion to compel an individual to engage in commercial sex, marriage, labor or services. A new report from the Office of the Attorney General and Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking shows that human trafficking remains a pervasive problem in Indiana.

In 2019, 157 Indiana human trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline – a 19 percent increase from 2018. Of the 157 cases reported in 2019 in Indiana, 40 of those involved minors, according to the report.

However, those numbers only reflect reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Because Indiana does not have a centralized reporting mechanism, there is no data that comprehensively illustrates the scope of human trafficking in the state.

Reports from service providers indicate that the scope of human trafficking in Indiana is far greater than data from the national hotline indicates. Ascent 121, an Indiana agency that specializes in working with survivors of sex trafficking, provided services for 117 minors in Indiana in 2019.

“So much of it goes unreported, and that’s really the problem,” said Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita. “And it’s not just that you’re being trafficked and taken and led beyond your will. It’s that this is also happening to people under the age of 18.”

Destiny Rescue explains to children that traffickers commonly get their victims through social media.

“It’s much more about traffickers looking for vulnerabilities in children,” said Russell. “It’s much more of a grooming progress. So we want our young people to be really smart about who they’re connecting with on social media, recognizing that there’s a lot of traffickers on those different platforms pretending to be someone that they’re not.”

Hunter with FWPD reported that many cases are never reported, but they’re very proud of the one victim they rescued in 2020 and two in 2019.

“We should still care quite a bit about these cases because even just saving one person out of a human trafficking situation is a huge win for everybody and those situations are really terrible and those victims suffer quite a bit of trauma in reference to that situation and that experience. Anytime we can rescue someone from human trafficking experience, it’s a win for everybody.”

For more of WANE 15’s investigation into human trafficking, look back at our series Hidden Predators.

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