We began our research on human trafficking at the crossroads of America, in Indiana. While Indianapolis prepared for Super Bowl XLVI, we were able to meet with a few organizations and institutions working to combat human trafficking in the state.
Frequently, prior to large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the media, organizations and government offices discuss how sex trafficking is likely to increase in their vicinity. However, a handful of journalists and some anti-human trafficking advocates criticize these articles, stating that large sporting events in fact “do not cause increases in trafficking for prostitution” (The Cost of a Rumor).
Organizations such as the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans (IPATH) and the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault (INCASA) have used this exposure as an opportunity to bring awareness to a persistent issue, rather than repeating the often inflated and unreliable numbers of victims of sex trafficking ‘expected’ to be brought into the area at the time of large sporting events. The individuals we met with at IPATH and INCASA are aware that sporting events may not necessarily result in a perceptible increase of sex trafficking victims. However, the speculation surrounding these events can be used to educate the populace about a problem that is pervasive year-round in their region and around the country.
A coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies in Indiana took the opportunity provided by the Super Bowl to train over 2,000 people in the fields of law enforcement, medical care, education and social work. These individuals were taught the signs they should look for and what questions they should ask to identify human trafficking. This is training that will not be lost after the Super Bowl, but will allow social workers and law enforcement to identify victims in the future as well.
Cab drivers throughout the metropolitan area were also trained to recognize warning signs of a sex trafficking victim – there are cases when cab drivers would not want to get involved in situations of identifying traffickers, or trafficking victims to law enforcement, so they are provided with the Polaris Project- National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number, which allows them to provide tips to the hotline while remaining anonymous.
In Indiana, we saw organizations making an effort to work together to combat an issue through sharing their most effective strategies: Traffick911, an organization which ran an anti-trafficking campaign during the Dallas Super Bowl, spoke with IPATH about all efforts in Dallas which they saw to be successful, or unsuccessful; INCASA and IPATH made additional efforts to hand out missing children pamphlets and statistics on trafficked minors in sex work to bars surrounding the Lucas Oil Stadium and throughout Indianapolis; Theresa Flores, a survivor of sex trafficking, brought Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP) to Indianapolis. SOAP creates bars of soap with the hotline number printed on them, which are then passed around to hotels and motels for victims to find while they wash up in the bathrooms.
The anti-trafficking task force in Indiana, IPATH, helped to pass Indiana’s first anti-human trafficking law in 2006. Prior to the Super Bowl, there was increased urgency placed on tightening up these laws in Indiana, in order to make it easier to prosecute traffickers, particularly in cases with minors. Governor Mitch Daniels signed Senate Bill 4 on Monday, January 30th just in time for the big event. The Senate Bill can be read here. The new Senate Bill provides an improved definition of human trafficking to also include ‘sexual conduct’; removes the requirement of minors to prove force, or threat of force (minors defined in Indiana as under 16); and further defines a trafficker as anyone who sells or transfers custody of a minor – including parents and guardians. These changes were not solely for Super Bowl cases, but it was seen by many in government and various NGOs as an opportune time to rush a bill through Senate.
While no one can measure the success of all of these efforts, there is no question that bringing awareness to the issue is necessary. During the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, a 19 year old woman from Las Vegas and a 21 year old woman from Cleveland were rescued from their traffickers in Indianapolis. Both women were forced, or coerced into sex work at the age of 16.
Even with examples of success, like these cases, some journalists are claiming that the haste to prepare for trafficking in the sex trade during the Super Bowl games was ignited by the blind apprehension of politicians – that they are “riding the momentum of a hoax that’s reignited before every major sporting event”(The Super Bowl Prostitution Hoax). This argument is understandable, especially because numbers of sex workers expected to infiltrate a city for large sporting events has been quoted at anything between 10,000 to 100,000. As Pete Kotz notes in his article, “Alarming figures are pulled from the mist of imagination, where extra zeros apparently come free with every purchase. Anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 hookers will be coming to town!” Yes, these numbers seem to be highly inflated; and from our findings, most sporting events have no statistical backing to say that the number of sex trafficking victims has ever greatly increased around these events compared to other times of the year. However, due to the underground nature of the trade, there is no way to know how many victims of trafficking are in Indiana, but as Abigail Kuzma stated, “the essence of justice in America is to rescue people who are being abused like this”. Whether the number is one, one-hundred, or one-thousand, the issue must be addressed.
Ms. Kuzma, the Co-chair of IPATH and the Director of Consumer Protection for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, noted that since 2005 there had been around 50 trafficking cases in Indiana handled by the Office of the Attorney General, a majority being sex trafficking cases. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find the pimps, or traffickers; victims are often afraid, or unwilling to testify against them. As a result, they are too rarely prosecuted for their crimes.
During our meetings with Ms. Kuzma and Anita Carpenter, director of INCASA, we asked about approaches in the field of anti-sex trafficking that have been neglected. Ms. Kuzma compared sex trafficking today to domestic violence 20 years ago; it existed but the public chose not to do anything about it, or even to acknowledge it. Public awareness of an issue is a key aspect in combating it. Ms. Kuzma’s approach to combating human trafficking in the U.S. sex trade is a campaign against demand for sex with minors; punishing johns, men who buy sex, for purchasing sex with minors. Ms. Carpenter feels similarly, but is also concerned about the lack of resources and funding for efforts to protect and rehabilitate victims. Despite shortcomings in these areas, efforts in Indiana to combat the issue have been stepped up in recent years, and particularly in the months around the Super Bowl. Both Ms. Carpenter and Ms. Kuzma feel strongly that Indiana organizations and government agencies are working hard to keep up with the fight against human trafficking in the sex trade, but that there is still much work to be done.
Our next visit to Indiana later this year will allow us to contact additional individuals in various fields of anti-human trafficking work. Ms. Kuzma works mainly with victims of sex trafficking, but recognized that labor trafficking is also a prevalent issue in Indiana – however, not an issue that she is regularly involved in. This is a topic that we will address upon our return to the state. We plan to further examine the issue within Indiana, as well as analyze results of anti-sex trafficking efforts during Super Bowl XLVI.
Where Are We Now?
We are currently in Atlanta, Georgia and have been receiving an incredible response from organizations and institutions on our research. Each individual we have met with has been more than helpful in connecting us to other professionals in the field of anti-human trafficking work – both sex and labor trafficking. We look forward to sharing some of our findings. An update will be published soon.