WARSAW — With a rising number of human trafficking cases being reported in Indiana, the Indiana Youth Institute felt it necessary to host a human trafficking awareness event at the Community Foundation on Wednesday, Aug. 10 to show community members how to recognize warning signs of these crimes.
Speaker at the event, Ian Hurst, the IYI North West Regional Coordinator for the Indiana Youth Services Association, spoke to an audience of about 60 people comprised of youth workers, law enforcement officers, therapists and people of the community wanting to learn about human trafficking.
A member of the audience, Melissa Cunningham, said the reason she attended the event was because she wanted to be, “Aware so I can report things.”
With more attention directed towards the large amounts of trafficking reported at recent Super Bowls, more people have been learning the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States, Hurst explained. According to statistics by Polaris, 5,444 human trafficking cases were reported in the United States just last year.
While people are becoming more aware of the growing problem of individuals being forced into working for low wages and sex slavery, many people are unaware these crimes are committed in the area. In Indiana, over 60 cases of human trafficking were investigated by the Indiana State Police last year. Hurst added the number of cases being investigated this year are in the triple digits already.
Hurst mentioned that, “It’s not a liquor store robbery you can see, it’s a closed door crime we need to see red flags for.”
Hurst’s presentation was aimed towards educating the audience on how to recognize the warning signs of when an individual that may be forced to work for a low wage or prostitution. Most often, people become victim to human trafficking not through being kidnapped by a stranger, as Hurst explained, but most cases of this nature occur mostly by families and significant others getting an individual involved in sex slavery or being forced to work for low wages.
Individuals are more likely to become susceptible to trafficking when they are homeless, have a history of abuse, are foreign born or have a lack of a support system, Hurst explained.
Once someone recognizes the signs of a possible trafficking victim, Hurst advised individuals to ask open-ended and non-judgmental questions to the victim in order to learn more about the situation without making the individual feel threatened. He mentioned that if someone believes they may know of anyone who may be in imminent danger due to human trafficking, they can contact the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline.
Hurst closed by giving the audience some hope that even though it has been discovered this crime occurs far more than it should in the surrounding areas, the IYI has discovered that over the last few months, “The more education we do, the more victims we see identified.”