By Greg Zoeller, special to the Courier-Journal, Sept. 9, 2015
The arrest of one of Indiana’s celebrities forces us to acknowledge what many still don’t want to believe – the underground business of sex trafficking exists and is thriving.
When the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficking Humans (IPATH) Task Force, which I co-chair, first started talking about human trafficking in our state, we were met with skeptics. People could not believe this was happening here. Fortunately – and very unfortunately – it’s now impossible for even the skeptics to ignore the reality of the sex industry.
Crimes against children in our society, especially sex crimes, are all too frequent. According to law enforcement experts, children are bought, sold and used in the sex industry every day. Child pornography cases are numerous and trafficking of children is regularly reported in the news.
And while we often hear about the perpetrators of these crimes, it’s rare that we talk about the victims.
The young victims of these crimes are the most vulnerable among us – the runaways, those who have been abused at home or those who are already caught up in the civil and criminal justice systems. It is estimated that children who are runaways will be approached by a pimp within 48 hours of being out on the streets.
Once these children are pulled into a life of sexual exploitation, it is very difficult to recover them. By the time they are adults at eighteen, they are labeled criminals and taken to jail, have become addicted to drugs or worse. The typical age of someone entering the sex industry is 12, and the average age of death of someone used in the sex industry is 34. Homicide is the most common cause of death.
The demand for purchased sex is what fuels these crimes, creating a market for pimps and victims. The Internet is also used heavily to sell and recruit children into trafficking.
As Attorney General, I have worked with those in our state who serve victims at child advocacy centers, domestic violence shelters, and sexual assault and human trafficking service providers. Combined with the work of my office on a national human trafficking committee and on the Indiana Children’s Commission, I know all too well how prevalent these crimes are in Indiana. We simply must do more.
The Victims Services and Outreach Division in my office was developed as a continuation of earlier efforts on sex trafficking as we noticed a need to provide better, more cohesive assistance to victims.
This is an unpleasant subject and one that is uncomfortable for me to discuss, but we Hoosiers must fight this battle on all fronts. We have to stop the demand for commercial sex that victimizes children and the adults they become. The Indiana’s Not Buying It campaign is one way we are refuting myths about the sex industry and urging people to stand up against the purchase of another human being. We have worked with legislators on seeking enhanced penalties for perpetrators of child sex crimes.
But we also have to support victims to get them out of this life and prevent others from getting pulled in. I am calling on everyone to take responsibility for those we see who may be victims. If you see a teen who may be homeless or a runaway, call law enforcement for help or call 2-1-1, a service providing statewide resources.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking or another crime, help is available. I can assure you that you are not alone.
If there is any good that can come from the case of Jared Fogle, and so many other perpetrators, let it be issuing a wake-up call to the risks our children face and a cry for greater protections from predators.
Greg Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana. More information is at www.INNotBuyingIt.org.