New Laws Address Children Being Used as Currency in Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS – Child protection advocates say some children in Indiana are being used as currency by sex traffickers, and also by their own parents.
Like many crimes, juvenile sex trafficking often is connected to a heroin, methamphetamine or other addiction, and the Indiana Youth Institute says parents who are hooked on these drugs often sell their own children to get their next fix.
The group's president and CEO, Tami Silverman, says last year there were 53 cases of child sex trafficking reported in Indiana, but likely many more were not.
"We know that more children are actually being identified as victims,” she states. “At this point it's really difficult to determine if the crime itself is becoming more prevalent or if it's an increased awareness and attention that's resulted in the increased reporting."
This month, new state laws will take effect to put harsher penalties in place for those involved in the crime.
One expands the definition of sex offenders to include child sex traffickers. Another makes it a felony to maintain, and a misdemeanor to visit, a common nuisance where trafficking is happening.
A third law lets the Department of Child Services step in to help children if they or an adult in their home is involved in sex trafficking.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says one in five runaways was likely a victim of sex traffickers.
Silverman says there are some signs to watch out for to spot children who may have been approached by a predator, including anxiety and depression, unexplained injuries or bruising, a young person who is always accompanied by someone who may be very controlling, and a child who only gives seemingly scripted answers when you talk to him or her.
She says predators know how to recruit children, and often do it through social media by playing with their emotions.
"During this trust building period, the trafficker is learning more about the victim so they can manipulate and exploit them,” she explains. “Unfortunately this is made even easier with social media where perpetrators can really cast out a wide net, they can connect quickly to kids and they can easily get details about that child's life."
It's the law in Indiana that adults must report suspected child abuse or neglect, which includes child sex trafficking. That can be done by calling a hotline, which is 1-800-800-5556.
Victims are urged to call it too, or they can text "Help" to I-N-F-O.