Hoosiers work to stop human trafficking

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Human trafficking is a crime happening throughout the country and Indiana, but right now there are efforts underway to fight it during human trafficking awareness month.

"Think twice because it should be on everyone's radar," Ascent 121 clinical therapist Teresa Bradley said.

"Really it can affect anybody at any point in time, no matter where you live," Restored Inc. founder and CEO Tracy McDaniel said.

The organizations are each working to raise awareness about the issue and help victims recover.

"Social media plays a huge role in kids being exploited and kids being trafficked," McDaniel said.

"It's not an average kid, a look. It could be from a suburb, from a small town, from a city," Bradley said. "And these kids are vulnerable kids, kids who have experienced sexual abuse, neglect, even kids in Hamilton County who have wealthy families."

According to early numbers released by Polaris, the number of cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline are projected to increase by at least 25 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. The hotline's state statistics show in 2017 there were 93 cases reported. Through the end of June 2018 that number was 59.

Bradley said sometimes kids don't see themselves as victims so that can skew the numbers.

"We have seen numbers increase. There's more boys coming out and more girls so we serve over 100 kiddos every year," she said.

Last week, President Trump signed legislation dealing with policy, programming and funding related to human trafficking.

At the statehouse, State Senator Jim Merritt filed a bill that would toughen penalties for human trafficking.

"I think it's well worth the money for the state of Indiana to up the penalties so we can say one more time to those that dare to buy a child and sell that child that it's not in Indiana, it's not in Indianapolis, not in our state," Merritt said.

The Marion County Prosecutor's Office said it has a few pending cases regarding human trafficking right now. In 2011 the office obtained the first human trafficking conviction in Indiana.

In Indiana, people at Restored Inc. and Ascent 121 are fighting every day to end human trafficking.

"We've served so many children and they've taught me so much and I think there is hope in such a dark topic and I think we can do better," McDaniel said.

To learn more about human trafficking click here.

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