Reported sex trafficking cases on the rise
in Indiana, Ohio
FORT WAYNE, IN – Young children, abused or neglected at home, run away and get picked up by strangers or even people they thought were their friends… selling them for sex.
It sounds like something straight out of a movie, but it actually happens everywhere. It could be happening right in your own backyard.
The number of sex trafficking arrests are on the rise in the state of Indiana, but so is the supply and demand of the commercial sex industry.
Trafficking is a form of modern slavery, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
“This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will,” says NHTRC.
One may think that sex trafficking only happens in under-developed neighborhoods, or only in other countries. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller reiterates that is simply not true, as it happens in any neighborhood, and from any computer or phone.
In Marion County alone, there have been 20 sex traffickers prosecuted and 25 victims rescued just in the past six months.
Zoeller, an advocate for education and the ceasing of sex trafficking in the Hoosier state, says many victims may not even see themselves as victims. They may experience a phenomenon close to ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ or not know any other life than the toxic one they’re exposed to.
The AG says the victims are not to blame, but the main problem is the business world the traffickers are feeding into.
“This is a growing problem, and one we need to recognize is real. Many people don’t even believe this exists,” says Zoeller. “I’ve called for the fact that people should be arrested and put in jail, the same way we address drunk driving. You may lose your job, or at least the respect of your friends and community. So if we start raising the risk factor, I think we can really take a dent out of the demand that’s out there today.”
Northwest Ohio is also no stranger to human trafficking cases either, as Toledo was once rated fourth in the nation for youth-sex trade due to a high number of FBI busts. Some local coalition members say the busts are actually a good thing.
According to the NHTRC, there have been 289 human trafficking cases reported just this year. 233 of those cases are sex trafficking.
Even higher is the number of phone calls made to report a potential case: 1066.
Jennifer Wedge, a member of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, says high numbers is not a bad thing, but quite the opposite.
“If there’s a population center with a lot of identified human trafficking victims, it means something in that area is working,” says Wedge. “They’re getting them identified and getting them help. It does happen in every single zip code in our country and in every country around the world.”
Many victims are believed to be missing children.
That’s why Tim Wedge, a Forensics Science professor at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio (and Jennifer’s husband) wanted to step in and help.
Wedge helped create FAGIN, Facial Analysis to Gain Information Now, a basic crude prototype that he and his students engineered.
FAGIN is designed to take missing person reports with pictures of missing children, run it through the facial analysis software by comparing them to pictures in ads for people being sold for sex online, and produce a report whenever there’s a match.
It even matches old pictures of the children, from the time when they went missing, to an aged picture years later when they’re being sold.
Wedge says FAGIN has the possibility of rescuing a shocking amount of victims.
“If we can take this crude prototype and turn it into a production system, we potentially can rescue every single one [victim] that’s being advertised online. That possibility exists. That [number of victims saved] is very likely going to be in the thousands,” Wedge says.
Wedge has showed the prototype to some law enforcement agencies to show how it works and how it can be made into a full production system.
He believes for that to happen, FAGIN needs the resources of law enforcement officers to officially use it for missing children like from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database, where 800,000 children are reported missing each year. One in five of them are sex trafficking victims.
Zoeller says knowing the signs of trafficking is prominent in eliminating the epidemic. Be on the lookout for young girls with an older man and it seems out-of-place. There might be some bruising or cuts on the victims, they might seem very controlled, looking down and staying quiet, and they might not have identification on them.
Zoeller says these recognizing these red flags and bringing it to someone’s attention could help get someone’s life back.
To report a potential human trafficking case anonymously, call the NHTRC at 1 (888) 373-7888 or send a text to 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”). Both are available 24/7.