For the first time in five years, federal prosecutors in Indiana did not charge any new human trafficking cases last year.
A new report from the Human Trafficking Institute shows the state was one of 20 in the country that did not have new criminal cases in 2019.
Indiana had 7 active cases, and 3 convictions, ranking it 25th in the nation for each category.
The institute says nationwide, the number of federal prosecutions in human trafficking cases is going down. However, that does not mean that human trafficking is declining.
There’s no evidence that shows that trafficking in the U.S. has dropped, so the fact these prosecutions are dropping means there are more traffickers who are free to continue to exploit victims they have in their custody now as well as a future stream of victims. One of the most effective ways to combat trafficking is to prosecute traffickers, so this decline in cases is concerning to us, and we hope that this data will show that there’s a need to prioritize this issue and to dedicate, have dedicated investigators and prosecutors who are working to stop traffickers.Kyleigh Feehs, associate legal counsel for the Human Trafficking Institute
There are several reasons there has been a decline in prosecutions. Feehs says the most common reason they have heard is that the website BackPage was closed after being seized in 2018. The website accused of allowing ads for child sex trafficking. A joint investigation found that adults and children had been forced into prostitution through escort ads on Backpage.
“That was the primary source law enforcement were able to go to and identify victims in potential cases, so once that site shut down, law enforcement had to catch up as traffickers moved to different sites and platforms, it takes law enforcement a little bit of time to see where those cases are moving,” Feehs said.
Feehs also says a shift in priorities at U.S. Attorneys offices is providing less funding for human trafficking cases.
Nationwide, there were 145 new cases of human trafficking last year, involving 271 defendants. There were 606 active cases. Most of those cases involve sex trafficking.
Feehs says most victims are recruited online or through a pre-existing relationship. Traffickers target vulnerable victims and use those vulnerabilities to continue to use them for labor or sex.
Recently— there has been a growing movement online about bringing awareness to human trafficking. Organizations like Ascent 121 encourage people to do more than just share a hashtag.
“What we suggest that they do is connect with their local agencies that do this work,” Kellie Leeper, the Director of Communications and Development at Ascent 121 said.
Some of those organizations include, Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, Purchased, Indiana Youth Services Association, Southern Indiana Human Trafficking Coalition, and Anti Trafficking Network of Northeast Indiana.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, chat the hotline at www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat or submit an anonymous tip online.
Anyone with information about victims of child exploitation is asked to call their local law enforcement agency and FBI field office or submit a tip online. they are also asked to file a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. When reporting, be as descriptive as possible, providing as much of the following as they can:
- Name and/or user name of the subject.
- Email addresses and phone numbers used by the subject.
- Websites used by the subject.
- Description of all interaction with the subject.
- Try to keep all original documentation, emails, text messages, and logs of communication with the subject. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
- Tell law enforcement everything about the online encounters—we understand it may be embarrassing for the parent or child, but providing all relevant information is necessary to find the offender, stop the abuse, and bring him/her to justice.