Southwest Ind. a hot spot for human trafficking


JASPER — When most of us think of human trafficking, we think of a scene like the movie “Taken.” You know the trope: Young women goes on a trip abroad and is kidnapped by a foreign bad guy before being saved by a good guy with a gun. But that’s not usually the case.

That’s according to Christina Wicks, Region 9 coalition coordinator with the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program. Wicks presented an Indiana Youth Institute Youth Worker Cafe on human trafficking in the area Wednesday at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper. Crisis Connection Inc. and the Dubois County Purdue Extension co-hosted the event with the Indiana Youth Institute.

Wicks defined human trafficking as “the use of force, threat of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of work or service against their will,” and said that victims tend to range in age from 12 years old through adulthood, though younger children have been victims. The common purposes of human trafficking are: labor or services, such as with migrant farm workers; forced or service marriage such as with mail order brides; involuntary domestic servitude; and commercial sexual conduct as with prostitution and pornography.

“A lot of things are happening in the Midwest and in Indiana,” Wicks said.

Wicks shared a map that showed human trafficking hot spots in the U.S., concentrated on the coasts and in the Midwest. Much of Indiana on the map is colored orange, signaling high activity.

The Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program and its partners provided services to more than 165 victims under 21 between October 2015 and September 2016. Wicks attributed Indiana’s high activity level to the many highways that run through the state and, in southwest Indiana specifically, the area’s proximity to several large cities.

A lot of traffickers, she said, travel with their victims through Indiana and she offered a current case as an example. Law enforcement recently found a young female victim who had been left in a hotel room by her traffickers after she got the flu. She managed to get herself to the hospital where she could receive care, but the traffickers, Wicks said, just left her to die.

Wicks’ presentation geared toward identifying youth victims since she was presenting to a room of people who work primarily with minors. The groups she suggested paying most attention to are those with unstable or abusive home lives, who identify as LGBTQ, who are immigrants, who have mental health issues, who live in poverty or who are around substance abuse or are addicted themselves.

“We’re starting to see a lot more (connection) with the drug epidemic in our area,” Wicks said, citing cases she’s worked on where parents sold their children to fund an addiction or where traffickers have purposely gotten victims addicted to drugs as a means of control.

In the majority of cases, Wicks said, the perpetrators are someone the victims know. According to a 2013 Fordham University study, 9 percent of human trafficking cases are perpetrated by strangers, while 36 percent are perpetrated by immediate family.

Wicks offered several signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking. If they’ve moved around a lot, but can’t remember where they’ve been, Wicks said, that’s a red flag. If they have an excessive amount of cash or hotel room keys, especially in the case of children, that’s a red flag, too. New tattoos or jewelry are another red flag because pimps use both as a way to brand their victims and tell other pimps those people are “owned,” Wicks said.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, Wicks said to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 800-800-5556. If you call the Child Abuse Hotline or 911, Wicks said to make sure to mention human trafficking because there’s a different set of protocols for trafficking cases than for other cases.

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