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Efforts begin to toughen human trafficking laws before Super Bowl

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In 2012, Indianapolis will host its first Super Bowl. As businesses eagerly prepare to reap the profits that come along with the influx of fans, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is preparing for the worst.

Zoeller is pushing for legislation that will increase the scope of Indiana’s human trafficking laws in an effort to crack down on adults who profit from child prostitution. A draft of the revisions to Indiana Code 11-8-8-4.5 and I.C. 35-42-3.5-1 was presented to the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission on Oct. 19, and Zoeller aims to rush the proposed changes through the Legislature before the big game comes to town.

kuzma-abigail-mug Kuzma

Human rights advocates see this initiative as a step in the right direction, while some people have scoffed at the assertion that human trafficking is a problem associated with the Super Bowl, or that it’s even a problem in the United States. But the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 500 people fell prey to human traffickers between 2008 and 2010, the majority of them children. Even more surprising to some people – the majority of them were born and raised in this country.

Understanding trafficking

Indiana Deputy Attorney General Abigail Kuzma said that human trafficking is not a problem specific to the Super Bowl.

“It’s any large event – just to be really frank about it – where you have a number of men who are looking for a party,” Kuzma said. But the Super Bowl presents a prime opportunity for the attorney general’s office to draw attention to the problem.

A study, conducted by Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work Center for the Study of Youth Policy, reported that on average, most females who work as prostitutes begin doing so between the ages of 12 and 14. The study reports that while pedophiles are the most likely to sexually exploit children, a group the study called “transient males” – which includes truck drivers, members of the military, seasonal workers and convention attendees – is the second-most likely to sexually exploit children.

Carollann Braum, who earned her LLM in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame Law School, said that the public may not understand that some females are coerced or forced into prostitution.

“You can have prostitutes or sex workers who are there voluntarily on their own free will, and then you can have trafficking victims side-by-side,” she said. “It’s difficult because human trafficking has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.”

Kuzma said many victims of trafficking may not self-identify as victims, especially if they were lured into prostitution at a young age. They tend to share characteristics that make them easier to control – like having broken relationships with their families, drug habits or, in the case of women and children who are brought in from other countries, the inability to speak the language or know where to turn for help.

“It’s important for people to know that it is happening right here, right now,” Kuzma said. “We have identified victims, we have rescued victims. And I think people are just shocked … we’re not talking about people being chained in rooms necessarily – although that has happened. You can manipulate someone very effectively with fear,” she said.

Prevention

In 2010, Christian Brothers Investment Services, an investment firm for Catholic institutions, issued a call to action for hotels in South Africa prior to the FIFA World Cup. CBIS urged hotels to educate hotel workers about the signs of human trafficking and to sign “The Code” – a pledge that travel and tourism companies can adopt to demonstrate opposition to human trafficking. Hotels may be havens for traffickers who try to isolate their victims from the public as much as possible.

On Oct. 5, federal investigators assumed control of a case in California where a couple allegedly had forced three females – two 16-year-olds and one 19-year-old – to work as prostitutes in a South San Francisco hotel. The captives were discovered after a tipster alerted police to a possible runaway staying at the hotel.

Kuzma said that hotels can help play a role in identifying victims, and that’s why the attorney general’s office hopes to do more to educate hotels about the signs of human trafficking.

“We are hoping to be able to set up training with hotel workers. They already are going to have a little bit of training on a kind of written Internet level that we drafted earlier,” she said. “We would like to do much more than that.”

Kuzma said hotel workers, taxi drivers, hospital workers and others can be on the lookout for signs that may indicate someone is a victim of trafficking. Victims will not have possession of their own identification documents or money and they may seem fearful or uncommunicative at hospitals and be accompanied by someone who is not a family member.

EXTRA
For a look at human trafficking statistics, click here.

“You’d be surprised at the number of cases where the tip-offs are from neighbors, ordinary people who notice something is just not right,” Kuzma said.

Laws and attitudes

Braum said while human traffickers – both traffickers in the sex trade or in forced labor – can be prosecuted under federal laws, states that align laws with federal statutes may have more options for maximizing penalties for traffickers.

“Most states do have laws on the books, but a lot of them aren’t as effective or aren’t being used as effectively as they could be,” Braum said. State laws may also be easier to enforce, or at least may expedite arrest locally.

Historically, prostitution, and its causes, has not been a high priority for law enforcement, Kuzma said. Adult women may still be treated as criminals, regardless of whether they’ve been forced into prostitution, and the customers – or “johns” – don’t suffer any meaningful consequences for their actions.

“A lot of times they are released on their own recognizance, but then if you do that, maybe you can’t find out if she’s a trafficking victim,” Kuzma said. “There’s been some significant research done about the deterrence of johns and their use of prostitutes … and certainly, significant fines, jail time – all those things are effective. The fact that we don’t even slap anybody’s hands is not helpful at all.”

Under Indiana law, solicitation of a minor is a crime, but Zoeller aims to remedy what he calls a loophole in the law that fails to separately address people who profit from the sale of sex with minors. A new draft of the proposed legislation is expected to be presented to the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission on Nov. 2.

Kuzma said that she hopes the public will begin to realize that prostitution is not a victimless crime.

“As we raise awareness, we’re thinking of long-term and not short-term,” she said. “‘Prostitution is the oldest profession – wink, wink – that’s not the right attitude here.”•
 

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