NewsChannel 15 hosted a panel discussion on the problem of human trafficking in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana on Thursday, February 23, 2017.
The conversation was streamed live on wane.com and the recording is posted above.
The following is a partial transcript of the hour-long panel.
Alyssa: What is the scope of human trafficking in our area?
Capt. Hunter: It’s a huge problem in our area and I think we’ve just scratched the surface on this issue. Women are being trafficked on the Internet on a regular basis. Anytime we can find out those cases we try to intervene as quickly as possible.
Alyssa: We have a question from Luke that says, “I try to monitor what my kids are doing on social media, and they’re good kids, but I know that I can’t have an eye and ear on everything they do. Are there signs that I can look for in my kids’ behavior or attitude that would suggest they are being targeted BEFORE they fall prey to trafficking?”
Sgt. DeJesus: Yeah, there are a lot of signs. Sometimes you have kids be open around their parents and they start coming home and go up to their bedroom or take the phone and turn it over and text something without saying anything. That to me is a red flag. It’s just mother’s intuition. If you think something is going on, it probably is, and you just need to get involved.
Social media is great in many ways, but it has opened up Pandora’s Box. To the predator, that is his candy store and he can pretend to be whoever he wants to be. And that young child will believe them.
Alyssa: Bonnie on Facebook wrote in and pointed out it’s not just young people. Older women who are lonely, depressed and emotionally unstable can still be a target.
Sgt. DeJesus: Yes. Absolutely.
Chelsea: And I think that brings up a really good point of a broader idea when we talk about grooming. Really what grooming is, is figuring out what that person needs. We all have needs, we’re human. Especially adolescents. That’s a really confusing time for everyone. Sometimes you have that need for affection or attention or maybe you have the need to feel protected because at home you don’t feel that. Or maybe at home you don’t feel heard. So to just have someone listen to you, ask you how your day is.
Sgt. DeJesus: To feel loved again.
Chelsea: Right. To feel loved. Like you matter. That grooming process is a way for a person to figure out how to meet those needs. That can go for anyone.
Alyssa: Along those same lines, Becca wanted to know if you could explain the dangers for people with disabilities and their family and caregivers. They also might be more vulnerable to being trusting.
Sgt. DeJesus: It does happen. It’s the same thing with everyone else. Being educated about it. If you feel something is not right, it’s not right. You have to let law enforcement know so we can help you. To victimize someone that is mentally handicapped, it does happen.
Capt. Hunter: The caregivers need to be ultra-sensitive to this issue and really watch the person that’s in their care and make sure everything is as it should be. If anything seems out of place or seems wrong, they ought to start asking those questions and intervene when they can. Because that population is very vulnerable.
Corbin: Nothing is below a trafficker. They’re not going to stop at someone who has disabilities, who can’t defend themselves or this person who’s a little smaller or a little bigger. They’re going to go for anybody. There are also the victims we don’t think about. We think about women and we use those pronouns all the time, but young boys are just the same. They’re going to take those boys when they’re very young, six or seven, and then turn them into groomers. You’re used for the sex until you’re seven and then you’re used for a groomer after that and they teach you everything and you’re forced to do that just like you were with the other favors earlier.
Sgt. DeJesus: It’s all power to them, too. They have control over that victim and that’s what it is. It’s just power.
Capt. Hunter: Psychological chains.
Sgt. DeJesus: Exactly. If you can take that power away it would be wonderful.
Chelsea: Also, Corbin you bring up a really good point that not only can it happen to anyone; because we do have a tendency to talk about woman, but in terms of, earlier you mentioned young people might be traffickers or young people who are victims might become groomers or people actively involved in it. And that speaks to a real serious issue we should look at in terms of those cycles. Those who are trafficking often times have a lot of the same vulnerabilities as the people who become victims. Now I’m not going to say I sympathize with those committing these crimes by any means, but when you have someone who’s younger who is trafficking it’s hard not to wonder, you know, a 17-year-old who decides to traffic someone they go to school with. There’s probably something amiss in that kid’s background too. A lot of these vulnerabilities overlap and can take the kids to different places.
Alyssa: We have a question from Melissa: “Why is sex trafficking so popular now.” Is it really more popular now? Do we just know more about it now?
Chelsea: It’s been around for a long time. One reason there’s more focus on it now is we have a new language around it. I don’t know if we always referred to it as human trafficking or sex trafficking, so when those new statutes came out and legally defined sex trafficking, now we have a new language around it. It feels like a newer issue than it is and it’s getting a lot more attention
Alyssa: Why don’t we post lists of the people who are buying the sex? A list of the “Johns.”
Capt. Hunter: Personally, I think it’s a great idea. I think public shaming; I wish we could do more of that. It’s effective from what I understand. The Fort Wayne Police Department in the past has only released felony media releases, so any felony arrests; we would give that information out. We’ve done Johns programs in the past where we target Johns, but since they are only misdemeanor arrests, we’re only listing ‘we arrested X number of men.’ That’s our policy we’ve used.
Alyssa: Who are the Johns?
Capt. Hunter: They’re from every walk of life. They’re professionals. Fathers. Husbands. Every walk of life.
Alyssa: Shannon on Twitter asked, “I’ve heard the cluster of hotels on Washington Center is used for trafficking. Can you talk about this?”
Capt. Hunter: Any hotel can be used for trafficking. No question about it. Some of the ones up north have been more common. We’ve been to just about every hotel in Fort Wayne on a trafficking case.
Alyssa: Another question submitted on wane.com, “Have you noticed, or is it too early to tell, a decrease in sex trafficking ever since Backpage has suspended their adult section?”
Sgt. DeJesus: In regards to crimes against children, child porn, child seduction and child solicitation, my unit has seen an increase in the tips we receive weekly. Even though Backpage has suspended their adult section, we are still dealing with dozens of other social media outlets.
Capt. Hunter: Since Backpage has been censored; I believe the trafficking has been transferred to different sites. We haven’t seen prostitution slow down at all. That’s the dilemma when taking down a site, more will take its place because there’s so much money involved with human trafficking.
Capt. Kevin Hunter is a lifelong Fort Wayne resident, and has worked for the Fort Wayne Police Department since 1989. He is currently the captain in charge of the Vice & Narcotics division. Capt. Hunter has previously worked in Patrol, the Police Academy, the Neighborhood Response Team, the Crisis Negotiation Team and Internal Affairs.
Capt. Hunter is a graduate of the 233rd Session of the FBI National Academy, and the FBI National Crisis Negotiation Course. He is a graduate of Indiana Tech, with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership. Capt. Hunter is also an adjunct instructor at Indiana Tech, teaching Criminal Profiling and Transnational Organized Crime.
“As the captain in charge of the Fort Wayne Police Department Vice & Narcotics Division, human trafficking is something that is certainly a growing problem. I have personally seen woman who there is no doubt are victims of human trafficking, but are so afraid of their traffickers that they are unwilling to cooperate to get help. These cases show just how strong the psychological chains are for these victims and how difficult these cases are to work. Through education and enforcement, these are two tools that the Fort Wayne Police Department uses to focus on this crime. The more people know about this crime, the less likely that this crime will go unnoticed.”
Sgt. Caesar DeJesus was born and raised in the military community. He graduated from high school in 1979 and joined the Marine Corps. Sgt. DeJesus retired from the Indiana Air National Guard in 2008 after serving 26 years. (Marines and Air Guard) He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sgt. DeJesus attended Trine University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Management and joined law enforcement in 1992. Sgt. DeJesus spent three years in Houston with the Houston Police Department (Special Operations / Bike Patrol Operations) before transferring to the Fort Wayne Police Department in 1995. There his duties here varied over the years in Uniform Narcotics / Undercover, Uniform Operations, Academy Instructor, Emergency Services Team, Hispanic Liaison Officer, Investigative Division and currently Supervisor of Crimes Against Persons / Sex Crimes/ Internet Crimes Against Children.
K.D. Roche is a public speaker, published author, business and sales consultant, networking specialist, designer, mother, partner, entrepreneur and survivor of human trafficking. She specializes in trafficking in the LGBTQ community. Roche started Free to Be Me as a support network for those who have overcome significant hardship. The idea behind the network is to empower survivors of domestic abuse, addiction, assault, human trafficking, poverty and physical/mental disease to rise above their challenges.
Roche grew up in a lower/middle-class American family, with 3 siblings on the West Coast. She experienced a multitude of childhood trauma–including sex-trafficking as a minor. As a result, she developed Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety, and depression.
Roche is passionate about educating the public on the impact of trauma on its sufferers and the recovery process. She’s also passionate about educating others on the specific vulnerabilities among the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ+ youth. In the last eight years some of the audiences she trained included Indiana Juvenile Justice Judges, Florida State Child Welfare and Department of Children and Families, Shared Hope International conference attendees, Indiana University psychology students, and staff and volunteers for the non-profit organizations Restored and Women Like Us Foundation.
Her full story as told by her is available in the book, “Made in the U.S.A.” by Alisa Jordheim.
Chelsea Shelburne joined the Indiana Youth Services Association in January 2016 as a Regional Coalition Coordinator for the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program. In that role, she is an advocate on behalf of human trafficking victims with law enforcement and other agencies. Shelburne will collaborate with and coordinate services with other professionals to provide sensitive, specialized and culturally appropriate services to victims of human trafficking. She also facilitates community education events relating to human trafficking. She also serves on the Northeast Indiana Anti-Trafficking Network.
Shelburne graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science in Business. Shortly thereafter, her interest in social justice and public policy led her to pursue a law degree. During her first year in law school, Chelsea discovered her passion for child advocacy when she interned with the Marion County Juvenile Court. She later researched the commercial sexual exploitation of children during her time as a Program on Law and State Government Fellow at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Chelsea graduated with her Juris Doctor in May 2015 and began working for a child sexual abuse prevention program.
Corbin Landrum is a senior at Huntington North High School. He was instrumental in co-establishing the “Human Trafficking Awareness Week” fundraiser in January 2016 that resulted in $1,600 being donated to unslaved.org. Another fundraiser in January 2017 raised $680. Landrum assisted in the presentation for the Human Trafficking Awareness Convocations in January 2016 and 2017 at Huntington North High School and completed the Human Trafficking 101 training in summer 2016. He also attended and presented in the Education Day at Victory Noll January 2017. Landrum is the recipient of the “Heathers Hope Award” for creating awareness of human trafficking in Huntington County and at Huntington North High School