ILNews

Prosecution raises awareness of human trafficking

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When it comes to human trafficking, most people who are unfamiliar with the crime visualize one person holding another hostage and giving them limited contact with the rest of the world. Some envision a basement in a dungeon-like setting with chains or other restraining devices, say advocates for victims of human trafficking.

The reality, they say, is far more commonplace. In many cases, the victims are able to leave to run errands or meet with others, but considering the psychological and emotional torture – not to mention possible debts to their oppressors – they don’t end up leaving on their own.

One case in point is the Jan. 25 conviction of Chris Smiley on human trafficking charges by a jury in Marion County. On Feb. 9, Smiley was sentenced to 10 years.
 

IL_Human_Traffick04-15col Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Hutchison has worked on human trafficking cases for a few years. She was the prosecutor on the first conviction for human trafficking in Marion County. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

While this is not the first known case of human trafficking in Marion County or Indiana, it is the first time a case has gone to trial in Marion County. And it is among the first, if not the first, in the state, said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Hutchison. She and Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Jody Hilger have worked on cases involving victims of human trafficking, and they represented the victim in this case.

In previous Marion County cases that involved human trafficking, either the defendant(s) fled the country, the victim(s) chose not to be witnesses, or the defendant(s) agreed to a plea to other charges that carried the same weight as the human trafficking charge.

This Marion County human trafficking case involved a woman – a U.S. citizen and Indianapolis resident – who was forced into prostitution as a result of someone else’s drug debt, an all-too-common scenario, Hutchison and Hilger said.

In addition to the human trafficking sentence, Smiley was sentenced to four years on a battery conviction, four years on an intimidation conviction, and 545 days on a strangulation conviction. The sentences will run concurrently. He will also serve five years on a possession of cocaine conviction that will run consecutively.

In this particular case, Hutchison said, the victim, B.A., worked in a strip club and was forced into prostitution to pay off the drug debt. In actuality, she earned more than the original debt. The money she earned covered expenses for her, Smiley, and four others.

B.A.’s name will remain confidential in accordance with the Indiana human trafficking statute that went into effect July 1, 2007, I.C. 35-42-3.5-4.

B.A.’s ordeal began in February 2010. She was 19 years old and Smiley was a friend of a friend. She had been missing for three or four weeks before it was reported to police, also fairly common in these kinds of cases.

There are a number of reasons why victims like B.A. aren’t reported as missing immediately, Hutchison said. Typically, the family prefers not to get involved with police or they assume the missing person is OK.

B.A. and the other women in her group were found by police March 19, 2010, and Smiley was charged in July 2010. Start to finish, B.A.’s ordeal lasted about one year.

B.A. was located when a 17-year-old, who was in charge of setting up B.A. with clients, used the cell phone to call her mom and tell her she had been raped. Based on that call, the police found B.A. and the others the next day in a hotel room on the eastside of Indianapolis where they had been staying. B.A. was found hiding in the bathtub, where she was told to stay by the others in the group.

Hutchison said Smiley moved B.A. and the others from hotel to hotel. Hotel records helped in the prosecution of the case. Moving around a lot is also fairly common for trafficking cases, she added.

Much of the time, trafficking involves victims staying in hotels, which is another way of isolating them, Hilger said. To help combat that, Hilger, Hutchison, and a statewide taskforce of law enforcement officers, lawyers, and service providers are working together to provide resources that will help hotel personnel recognize warning signs. In this case, a hotel employee noticed the victim had a black eye but didn’t recognize any other circumstances as unusual.


kuzma-abigail-mug Kuzma

Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, a member of the taskforce and director and chief counsel of the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, first came in contact with human trafficking victims when she was executive director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

She and others are working on training detectives and police officers to recognize trafficking cases. There is a sense of urgency because many involved in preventing human trafficking are concerned that when the Super Bowl comes to Indianapolis in 2012, there will be an increase in the number of detected and undetected trafficking incidents. The taskforce plans to work with individuals and businesses in Indianapolis who may have contact with those who are here for the event, as well as possible victims, to ramp up awareness, recognize warning signs, and know who to call for help.

“Getting the word out is critical. The victims themselves are like domestic violence victims. They are always isolated. If they are immigrants, they often have language barriers and physical barriers that make them isolated. They don’t ask for help. We have to find them. That’s a huge challenge,” Kuzma said.

Hutchison said it is also important for lawyers to be aware because if they have a client who’s a victim, they can alert the prosecutor to check out the situation.

After she was found, B.A. received counseling. She worked closely with the deputy prosecutors and the detective. Hilger and Hutchison told her that she would only need to address Smiley once, to identify him, and the rest of the time she would be addressing the jury.

“During the trial process, the dynamic of power is flipped in favor of the victim,” Hilger said.

After she learned Smiley was convicted, B.A. called Hutchison. “This means they listened. They listened to me and believed me,” B.A. told her.

To report an incident of suspected human trafficking, call 911 if there is an immediate danger, or contact the Indianapolis Trafficked Persons Assistance Program 24-hour hotline at (800) 928-6403.•

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

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  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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