FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – One of the biggest questions surrounding human trafficking is how to stop it. Nearly everyone agrees the first step is education.
Recent news stories across the country show training and awareness do work. After getting training on the warning signs of human trafficking, a flight attendant spotted a victim on a plane and got her help when they landed. An Uber driver in California had a similar story. He recognized the red flags while taking a group of three girls to a hotel. He called police. The victim was rescued and her traffickers were arrested.
“If we could get one person to say, ‘I won’t do this anymore,’ that’s one less time the girl they were going to call is going to get raped.” – Undercover FBI Agent
It’s examples like those that highlight why it’s so important for everyone to be aware of human trafficking and not let the predators stay hidden anymore.
“You don’t have to work in social work or law enforcement to have direct contact with these people and if you’re aware you can do something to stop it,” K.D. Roche, a sex trafficking survivor, said.
Society is starting to fight back. Thursday President Trump even announced that stopping human trafficking is a priority for his administration.
“Human trafficking is a buzz word right now and we’re trying to educate more people on the issue and the more we educate, the more the word gets out,” Capt. Kevin Hunter with the Vice and Narcotics division on the Fort Wayne Police Department, said.
In Indiana, many agencies try to train as many groups as possible. Wednesday, the Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (ITVAP) presented at an education day put on by Allen County Superior Court and Great Kids Make Great Communities.
“People will know how to identify victims and what to do when they do identify them. The more training we do, the more reports we are seeing,” Jeremy Greenlee, a regional coordinator for ITVAP, said.
The Northeast Indiana Anti-Trafficking Network also coordinates outreach and education events in the area.
As people recognize that what they’re seeing is actually trafficking, Greenlee said new research by the group Polaris shows reported cases of trafficking in Indiana went up 37 percent last year. But, he added that it’s still estimated that only one to two percent of sex trafficking cases ever get reported.
The courts and lawmakers are getting educated too. The Allen County Juvenile Center even created a new screening tool last March to better detect victims of trafficking.
“We wanted to make sure that we were identifying them and getting them the services that they needed,” Kendra Miklos, the probation supervisor said.
Hon. Daniel Heath, an Allen County Superior Court judge, said when a child is charged with running away, one of the first things to look for is if he or she was also trafficked. Nationally, it’s estimated one in three runaways will be trafficked within 48 hours.
“This is a time we want to help that child and rehabilitate that child and we want to find services for the child,” Judge Heath said.
Changes in Indiana’s laws last year also better define youth caught in trafficking as victims.
“It is now a special category recognizing that juveniles engaging in juvenile prostitution acts or sex trafficking (IC 35-42-3.5-1) are victims not perpetrators (IC 31-9-2-133.1) and as a result, there’s a whole new section in the Child in Need of Services section (IC 31-34-1-3.5),” Hon. Charles Pratt, a judge with Allen County Superior Court, said.
A bill in the statehouse right now would also remove previous convictions for acts performed while the child was being trafficked from their record. Senate Bill 166 just passed the Senate unanimously.
“It’s a pretty high awareness that this is a special interest and a special concern on a statewide level from the top down,” Judge Pratt said.
The hospitality industry is also getting in on the education efforts. Last December, a seminar for hotels around Fort Wayne taught warning signs for staff from the front desk to housekeeping.
“It’s important. It’s something we didn’t think about before, but we do now,” Andrea Hill, the director of sales for a Holiday Inn, said. “All of us were shocked. We didn’t even know it’s happening here in our area, but we knew it was something we wanted to bring awareness to.”
Click the picture on the right to see the training packet for hotels.
Education on the Highways
“If they can educate truck drivers about what’s going on, we can prevent this from high risk areas like rest areas and truck stops,” M/Trp. Jason Ward with the Indiana State Police said.
In January, non-profit group Truckers Against Trafficking teamed up with highway patrol in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio for an education blitz. In Indiana in a week, more than 3,200 brochures and wallet cards were handed out to drivers to teach them the warning signs and the number to report trafficking.
“If they can recognize potential victims when they see it and report it effectively, imagine how many more victims could be recovered,” Kendis Paris, the executive director and co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking, said.
15 Finds Out road along with a state trooper and the truckers we spoke to were all supportive of learning more about trafficking and helping report it if they saw it.
“They need to understand that, ‘Hey. I’m looking at domestic sex trafficking and I need to stand up and make a call on behalf of this victim,'” Paris said.
“As long as there’s demand for human trafficking, there will always be human trafficking.” – K.D. Roche, Sex Trafficking Survivor
While education and awareness are first steps, the real way to put an end to trafficking it to stop buying it.
“We have to teach our young people, boys and girls, that it’s not okay to exploit anyone and buying pornography and buying sexual acts is exploitation. Even if you think the person wants to do that, chances are they do not,” Dr. Robyn Eubank, the director of psychological services at the Youth Opportunity Center, said.
An undercover FBI agent in Fort Wayne who focuses on finding and taking down traffickers said it won’t stop until people stop consuming.
“If we could get one person who’s seeing this [story] to say, ‘I won’t do this anymore,’ that’s one less time the girl they were going to call is going to get raped,” he said.
Indiana Department of Child Services: 1-800-800-5556
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888