Indiana Continues Fight Against Human Trafficking

Efforts in Indiana and around the nation have intensified to help victims of human trafficking and catch offenders. Photo credit: Bret Jordan/Flickr.

By Mary Kuhlman

Human trafficking is often a hidden crime, but it is one of the fastest growing in Indiana and around the nation.

Some 27 million people around the globe are said to be victims, forced to work at manual labor or in the sex industry.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says in the case of sex trafficking, the victims often have been exploited since childhood.

"The majority of the women who are victims of human trafficking are young girls who were abused at home, they run away, they get picked up, and they get trafficked throughout our state," he explains. "So, this is very much a real problem, in Indiana and around the country."

Zoeller says he's working with attorneys general in other states to intensify efforts to catch traffickers and help victims.

In recent years, Indiana law enforcement has responded to more than 130 tips of human trafficking, and during Super Bowl 2012 in Indianapolis, two victims were recovered, and there were 68 arrests related to the commercial sex trade.

Zoeller says reducing demand is a big part of the solution. He says human beings should not be for sale, and he maintains there's too much tolerance for the world's oldest profession.

"For men to stand up and say, 'Hey, this is no longer socially acceptable,'" he states. "We have to stand up and say that you don't talk about purchasing another human being for sex in today's era."

Labor trafficking occurs in many industries, from beauty salons and hotels, to farms and factories.

Abby Kuzma, Indiana's assistant attorney general for victim services and outreach, says victims often believe they must work for the trafficker to pay off a debt. For an immigrant, it could be the money that was paid to get into the country.

"That individual says to them, once they get here, 'I own you until you pay me back this debt,'" Kuzma explains.

"'You have to do what I tell you to do. You have to work where I tell you to work, work the hours I tell you to work, sleep where I tell you to sleep, eat what I tell you to eat.'"

Kuzma adds youth, poverty and homelessness are among the risk factors. She says victims often work long and unusual hours, may appear nervous or fearful, and they may not know much about the area where they reside.