This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

Human trafficking is an epidemic that is catching the eyes of leaders and concerned citizens globally. Though many people consider this to be a third-world problem, it is affecting families in every community, including Indianapolis.

Indiana statute defines human trafficking and sexual trafficking of adults and minors, but it is important to remember that victims and traffickers are difficult to classify.

Traffickers can be anyone – any age, any race, any gender [and] any socioeconomic background. They typically have some connection to the victim,” said Kate Kimmer, Statewide Anti-Trafficking Coordinator with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, an organization that develops and coordinates victim services for adult survivors of trafficking. “Victims are equally as dynamic, but we are seeing trends that suggest particular communities and populations are disproportionately impacted by this crime.”

“Victims can be adults or minors,” said Karen Maher, Region 5 Coalition Coordinator for Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program, which trains individuals around the state to identify and address trafficking situations while also finding ways to meet the needs of victims. “However, youth are particularly vulnerable due to lack of life experience, impressionability and their judgment and reasoning not yet being fully developed. Runaway [and] homeless youth, youth with a history of abuse and LGBTQI youth with a lack of support are especially at risk.”

According to Kimmer, trafficking can be hard to track and there is no evidence to show that kids are the most common victims, though “in the US generally and Indiana specifically, [youth] are the most likely victims to be identified as victims of human trafficking and be referred to trafficking-specific services.”

Maher’s organization has followed the services provided by its partners to trafficked, commercially sexually exploited at-risk youth who are 21-years-old and younger in Indiana. According to her, since October 2015, “just under half of the over 220 cases tracked were cases involving a youth who was from or recovered in Marion County.” 

Kimmer noted that because “human trafficking encompasses a wide array of crime types, it is difficult to give an accurate snapshot of what human trafficking looks like in Indianapolis. Anti-trafficking professionals in Marion County have identified a significant amount of domestic minor sex trafficking, but we have also seen cases of involuntary servitude and allegations of forced labor. Human trafficking is hidden in plain sight. If we don’t know the red flags and we don’t know how to build rapport and serve victims, we will miss the opportunity to identify trafficking, prosecute traffickers and serve victims of this crime.” 

“Traffickers prey on an individual’s vulnerabilities to exploit him or her,” said Maher. “An older male convincing a teen girl to trade sex for money after pretending to be her boyfriend; a homeless youth being offered basic necessities such as food, clothes [or] shelter in exchange for sex; and the offer of a false job to someone from impoverished circumstances in another country that results in forced labor are a few examples.” 

Families and youth can and should be vigilant in identifying and preventing trafficking situations. 

“While traffickers use a number of tactics to recruit potential victims, they especially use social media to target youth,” said Maher. “Youth can reduce the risk of being exploited by being careful what they post online and who they [talk] to, understanding that not everyone is who they say they are and may not have the best motives. One of the most important things parents can do is be involved to know what is going on in their children’s lives and keep an open dialogue with them that is non-judgmental so they have a safe space to turn to if they find themselves in a difficult situation.” 

Kimmer agreed, saying, “Create a safe space for your children to share their experiences. Help your youth understand safety features on social media. Talk to your children about healthy relationships and healthy boundaries. Empower your children with life skills, education and unconditional love. Help young people learn about safe spaces, advocacy and how to report a crime. Believe victims. Help youth navigate a world that sends a tremendous amount of confusing messaging around sex, violence, gender, race, relationships and money by fostering an environment of empathy and critical thinking.” 

Maher and Kimmer have several suggestions for those who want to help prevent trafficking in our community, and reporting suspected trafficking situations is key. 

“Human trafficking is dangerous and unpredictable; do not try to intervene directly in a case that you believe may involve human trafficking,” said Kimmer. “Human trafficking of a minor is considered child abuse. In suspected cases of abuse or neglect concerning children in Indiana, we are all mandated reporters. Please call DCS if you have reason for concern.” 

Maher listed other ideas, including “meeting the needs of vulnerable youth and families who need food, clothes [and] shelter; volunteering with a youth-serving program such as a Boys and Girls Club or Court Appointed Special Advocates; getting educated on the red flags that may indicate a potential victim and reporting if they suspect trafficking; [and having] open and honest discussions about the demand that drives the commercial sex trade.” 

For those who suspect the trafficking of an individual who is 18 years old or younger, call the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline at 1-800-800-5556. If the suspected victim is an adult, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. 

The Marion County Commission on Youth, Inc. (MCCOY) will be advocating for legislation that will be introduced in the 2018 state legislative session that will seek to enhance Indiana’s definitions and criminal provisions for traffickers as well as producers and possessors of child pornography.