7 things to know about local human trafficking

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Courier-Journal on 04/01/2016 by Lexy Gross

What is human trafficking? Does it happen in the U.S.? Why don’t victims come forward to get help?

These questions and dozens more were addressed at a conference held at Indiana University Southeast on Friday. Local and state experts, as well as active social workers, gathered to talk about ways to recognize and combat human trafficking in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Experts aimed to debunk stereotypes, educate service providers about trauma and talk about solutions to the problem.

“We have to say, as a culture, that this will no longer be tolerated,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who said he wants to change the focus from punishing victims of trafficking to raising the risk of trafficking kids and adults.

Multiple speakers talked about the prevalence of the crime – especially sex trafficking – during the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Over Louisville, NCAA regional games and other major events in the metro area.

Zoeller’s office, the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans task force, the Southern Indiana Human Trafficking task force and Indiana Youth Services Association hosted the conference at IUS.

Here are a few of the questions speakers addressed Friday:

1. What is human trafficking? What is sex trafficking?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit human beings for some type of labor or commercial sex purpose.”

“When it’s sex trafficking, something of value has to be taken or given” for a sexual act, said Darlene Bradley, of Homeland Security, during a panel discussion.

Human trafficking can be in the form of forced labor or domestic servitude as well.

Darlene Bradley of Homeland Security speaks about ways to stop child sex trafficking during the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference at IU Southeast Friday morning. More than 300 people attended the conference, which featured speakers and topics on combating sex trafficking among women and children. (Photo: Matt Stone/The Courier-Journal)

2. How does social media play a role?

Yvonne Moore, chair of the Southern Indiana Human Trafficking Task Force, said Internet and social media sites are one of the most common-used methods for predators to traffic children and adults.

“It’s a lot easier for a person who wants to have sex with a child to find them on the Internet, instead of grooming a neighbor’s child,” Moore said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children made available to law enforcement more than 4.3 million reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation, Moore said Friday. She encouraged parents to watch their kids’ social media accounts and listed some commonly used by predators, such as Snapchat, Kik, Vine and Instagram.

Roger Logsdon, human trafficking task force detective for the Indiana State Police, said most of the department’s investigations deal with the site backpage.com.

Moore said when it comes to children, the average age of entry into commercial sex is between 12 and 14 years old.

“You’ve really got to look at what your kid is using” on social media, Moore said.

Yvonne Moore speaks about the use of social media for child sex trafficking during the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference at IU Southeast Friday morning. More than 300 people attended the conference which featured speakers and topics on combating sex trafficking among women and children.

3. How much does sex trafficking increase during Derby and other major events?

A study of 20,384 sex-related online ads over a 15-month period found that from mid-April through the end of Kentucky Derby weekend, there were more than 1,800 sex ads posted online. The study was conducted by Theresa Hayden, a University of Louisville criminal justice professor, and Dianna Anderson, with the Human Trafficking Alliance.

Moore said although some ads are for voluntary prostitution, it helps researchers get a better idea of who may be forced into sex trafficking.

On the site Backpage, there could be more than 1,000 sex-related ads posted daily in Indianapolis, Logsdon said.

Experts noted it is important to remember that sex trafficking doesn’t simply end after Derby or other major events, it happens every day of the year.

4. Who are the victims?

Experts stressed there’s no single type of perpetrator or victim involved in sex trafficking.

Kids who have dealt with homelessness, sexual abuse, molestation, poverty and other issues can be more susceptible to becoming a victim, said Tracy McDaniel of Restored Inc. Experts also pointed to runaway and LGBTQ youth as being more susceptible to being recruited by traffickers.

Girls are often forced by a trafficker to make a daily quota, McDaniel said.

5. Why don’t people come forward?

“Victims are not going to self-identify to you,” McDaniel said. “They don’t trust you, they don’t trust me, and a lot of times they don’t trust law enforcement.”

She said many times, a victim doesn’t think his or her perpetrator is doing anything wrong. They’ve learned to trust the trafficker and have sometimes created bonds with other victims, McDaniel said.

Bradley, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said many victims are held in captivity, are threatened physically or blame themselves for the trafficking. Many aren’t aware that they are being trafficked or they rely on the perpetrator emotionally, financially or physically, Bradley said.

6. How can you identify someone being trafficked?

Experts said physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglected health care or hygiene, could be signs of human or sex trafficking. Many girls who are trafficked will experience signs of psychological trauma or substance-related disorders, McDaniel said.

“When was the last time they ate? They probably haven’t had much to eat in five to seven days,” said Angela Renfro, a sex trafficking survivor and founder of the Kristy Love Foundation in Louisville.

Bradley said to look for branding tattoos, room keys and relationship signals.

7. What are some available resources?

Visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center online or call its hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

The Indiana Attorney General’s office also offers resources online at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral. You can find information about the Southern Indiana Human Trafficking task force on Facebook.