Hundreds of Hoosiers are victimized by one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world: human trafficking. According to Abby Kuzma, director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Indiana Attorney General’s office, it’s a major problem that happens when people are recruited to work or provide a variety of services, from housekeeping to sex, through the use of force, fraud or coercion. She said that in Indiana, 60 percent of trafficking cases involve sex, with victims as young as 12.
“There’s a tremendous amount of violence, and you have kids being pulled into this who are being manipulated by adults into this horrific lifestyle,” she charged.
The “Don’t Buy the Lie” campaign is one effort in Indiana to educate the public and law enforcement about trafficking, promoting zero tolerance for the sex trade. The Attorney General has also supported legislative changes that make it easier to prosecute traffickers and hold them accountable for their crimes.
Kuzma said human trafficking also involves forced labor, and often victims are foreign-born and are brought to the U.S. under false pretenses as they seek employment.
“Basically, the individual in many instances does not get paid at all or does not get paid a fair wage, and does not feel free to leave because of this debt that they owe,” as she described the situation. “That’s why it’s called ‘debt bondage.'”
Kuzma said trafficking can happen to families from any social or economic group, and traffickers find ways to exploit a victim’s vulnerabilities, which may include youth, poverty, unemployment, or desperation. She said they use abduction, fake businesses, and newspaper or online ads to find their victims.
“The Internet is being used to traffic kids through escort services ads, and also to recruit kids through Facebook and Twitter – all kinds of social media – so, we really need to be careful,” she said.
Kuzma encourages Indianans to report suspected human trafficking situations. Red flags to look for include people who are never left alone, who may exhibit signs of physical abuse or psychological trauma, or who live and work in the same location.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month.