By Alaa Abdeldaiem
The crime is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry worldwide, and experts say it will likely happen in Indianapolis during the Indy 500.
“We pride ourselves on Hoosier hospitality, and that does not include anything about the commercial sex industry,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
According to the Trafficking in Persons Report produced by the State Department, human sex trafficking, or the buying and selling of individuals for sex or labor, victimizes approximately 27 million men, women and children. It’s a crime that generates roughly $150.2 billion, one that puts approximately 300,000 American youth at risk.
And it’s a crime that Zoeller is set on combatting.
Zoeller’s office hosted training sessions for law enforcement agencies and members of the tourism industry across Indianapolis this week, dedicated to highlighting ways to recognize and respond to human sex trafficking ahead of this month’s Indianapolis 500.
Warning signs include:
- Children with adults they don’t know
- Teenagers without identification
- Teenagers who are in rooms alone or don’t know where they are
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was one of the agencies to take part in the training.
“A lot of smaller jurisdictions have never received formal training, so this was fantastic,” said Sgt. Karen Dague with the department’s Vice Unit.
The trainings started before the city hosted the Super Bowl in 2012 and have gained attention since, particularly prior to major sporting events.
The attorney general’s office found Backpage.com ads, which offer “escort services” in the Indianapolis area, had spiked to more than 100 per day during the 2015 NCAA Final Four championship. During the championship weekend, police made 18 commercial sex-related arrests.
“These trainings have been bringing a lot of attention to something that has been long going on and, quite frankly, something that none of us had recognized,” Zoeller said.
While Zoeller said being vigilant during major events is important, he hopes the efforts don’t end there. Zoeller said he has long advocated for legislative changes to more easily prosecute and hold offenders accountable.
“We, as a society, have tolerated the demand for commercial sex, and that has made it seem like a lesser crime than it is,” Zoeller said. “If we really want to address the problem, we have to treat it like a serious crime, and I hope that over time we can elevate the consequences and raise the risk to people purchasing sex so we can drive down the demand.”
Such a change starts with education, Dague stressed.
“People think that sex trafficking is something that happens in another country, when in reality it happens here in our own backyards, too,” Dague said. “We have to educate the public and law enforcement, and the more that happens, we can push for legislation to get longer sentences.”
Human trafficking tips can be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at: 888-3737-888 (text BeFree to 233733). If it is an emergency, call 911.