The fastest growing criminal industry in the world is thriving in Indiana. According to a recent report by former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, there were at least 178 known cases of human trafficking in Indiana in 2016. Statistically, 94 percent of victims are female, 43 percent are people of color and 29 percent are age 15 or younger.
“We have done a lot of training so that people have a greater recognition of sex trafficking, and quite frankly we have seen an increase over the past few years. Victims are very reluctant to come forward, a lot of them are under threat, they may have been given drugs, so these are difficult statistics to maintain and difficult cases to make,” said Zoeller.
Human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Though exact figures are hard to maintain, there are a disproportionate number of Black and brown victims nationwide. Many victims are immigrants, runaway teenagers, homeless youth and victims of domestic violence.
State Rep. Karlee Macer, a Democrat representing Indiana’s 92nd District, believes changing the legal age of consent from 16 to 18 would be a step toward fighting sex trafficking in Indiana, because it would prevent criminals from committing sexual misconduct through child seduction.
“Right now, under Indiana law, a 56-year-old can have sex with a 16-year-old, and there is no law against that. Pimps across the country are targeting our young people through social media and other ways, luring them in, and selling them into the sex trade. The focus needs to be on this horrific crime; this is real,” said Macer.
Child seduction is considered a Class A or B Misdemeanor under current state law, but Macer’s bill would make that crime a Felony 6, which would come with penalties of up to two-and-a-half years in prison and fines up to $10,000. Macer says changing the age of consent will not affect young love; the so-called Romeo and Juliet law in Indiana will still allow teenagers to legally have sex within a four-year age gap.
Zoeller believes the best way to fight sex trafficking in Indiana would be to focus on lowering the demand for commercial sex. If there were fewer people willing to pay for sex, the number of women being brought into the sex trade would decrease.
“If we continue to look at prostitution as a crime by the young woman or young man who commits it, we have missed the opportunity to reduce demand. We really need to focus on the person who is purchasing another human being by raising the risk and the consequences, to make it into a serious crime,” said Zoeller.
There are many local organizations and initiatives working to reduce the number of victims. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has a human trafficking and vice unit that focuses specifically on helping victims of this crime. A local nonprofit organization known as Purchased facilitates events to raise awareness of sex trafficking and teaches local youth to be allies against sexual exploitation.
Zoeller thinks recent strides will cause the situation to improve in the future.
“I focused on this when people didn’t believe (sex trafficking in Indiana) was true. I can say we have raised the issues to the public’s attention to the point where people recognize it as a significant problem that need to be addressed.”
To view the full Indiana State Report on Human Trafficking, visit in.gov/attorneygeneral.
BY THE NUMBERS
Indiana’s victims of human trafficking
From January to Oct. 28, 2016, the Indiana Youth Services, Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance program coordinated services for 178 trafficked or commercially sexually exploited youth (under age 21) through its partner service providers throughout Indiana.
94% of victims were female
57% were white
43% were people of color
27% were Black
9% were Hispanic
29% were age 15 or younger