Prostitutes in human trafficking busts could be victims of large scale criminal organizations

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Seven Indianapolis businesses were busted Tuesday as part of an eight-month long investigation into human trafficking. Warrants were served at the massage parlors on suspicion of prostitution.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said investigations like these are nothing new to central Indiana, but there's more conversation about human trafficking due to the commercialization of the sex industry. Zoeller said the businesses are likely part of a larger criminal enterprise. Indiana may see more cases, because of the convenient access to interstates.

"We’ve seen the growth of organized crime particularly from China, but also from other areas where they come in and organize these massage parlors, which are really a front for prostitution," Zoeller said. "I think there’s probably some pretty powerful people that are controlling this."

Zoeller said there's nearly 10,000 massage parlors like these all across the U.S. While not all of them do shady business behind closed curtains, Zoeller said many do. In some cases, women are being forced into prostitution.

"Some of them may have family in danger back home. Some are under threat here in the United States. They may not have papers, so they may not have their passport with them. They may have been brought there under false pretenses," said Zoeller. He added that many other women, are not doing this because of a choice, "not because they volunteered, but because of some threat or coercion which is really the definition of trafficking."

While in some cases, some women can be charged with prostitution, Zoeller said he hopes the conversation can change and people will begin to look at these women as victims, instead.

"I think a lot of people are scared, some of them, particularly the ones that are brought here against their will, regardless of how they might come," Zoeller said.

Zoeller said he's also hoping lawmakers will consider making solicitation a more serious offense with harsher penalties for those who pay for people.

“My focus has always been on trying to reduce demand, so I think we need to be more serious on the purchase of a human being," Zoeller said. "By the time you raise the risk associated with purchase of another human being, I think we can do a lot to reduce the demand."

There are signs to look for to determine if someone may be a victim of human trafficking.

"A woman who seems out of place with an older man, very submissive so they won’t look up. It’s not a victimless crime, so sometimes there’s bruising or something that shows that they’ve been abused physically. They usually don’t have any identification. Your opportunity to flee is there if you have your own drivers license or passport, so all those signs that something is really amiss is a red flag," said Zoeller.

If you or someone you know needs help, call The National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733).

Click here for more resources from the attorney general's office.