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Police investigating possible human sex trafficking case in downtown Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indianapolis police are crediting an alert citizen with helping them to launch the department’s latest investigation into possible human sex trafficking.

Police were called to the Steak ‘n Shake restaurant in the 100 block of West Maryland Street Saturday afternoon after someone reported a teenager acting strangely in the restaurant. The person told officers the teen had stumbled into the restaurant and appeared to be under the influence of some kind of narcotic.

“Someone noticed erratic or behavior that isn’t characteristic of a young person and notified us,” said IMPD Sgt. Christopher Wilburn.

Arriving officers learned the 15-year old boy was from Illinois. Their investigation led them to a nearby vehicle and a 22-year-old man whose involvement is still being investigated.

Due to the sensitivity of the case, police aren’t releasing many details, Wilburn said.

“This is traumatic,” Wilburn said. “This is tough to read. It’s tough.”

Information provided by IMPD indicates the department conducted 23 human trafficking investigations in Indianapolis in 2017. The cases involved 29 potential underage victims, and resulted in 18 arrests.

Last year, the FBI released a behind-the-scenes video of the agency’s ninth “Operation Cross Country.” The informational video showed agents following leads and rescuing more than 80 juveniles from hotel rooms, casinos, truck stops and through websites. The youngest rescued child was only three months old. The operation also resulted in more than 120 arrests of suspected traffickers. Several of those arrests took place in Indiana.

The FBI said there are warning signs of human trafficking you can watch for:

  • If you see an unusually large number of people living in a single-family home
  • If you see individuals who go from home to work and straight back with no signs of any kind of social life
  • Frequent police activity at a home or business
  • Assaults, domestic situations, verbal disputes, or thefts. These could involve a trafficking victim being abused and disciplined by a trafficker, a customer having a dispute with a victim, or a client who had money taken during a sex act
  • Locations, such a truck stops, strip clubs, massage parlors, and cheap motels, are havens for prostitutes forced into sex trafficking. Many massage parlors and strip clubs that engage in sex trafficking will have cramped living quarters where the victims are forced to stay
  • An individual with injuries from beatings or weapons; routinely has large sums of cash on hand

This week, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office also announced the addition of more investigators, attorneys and other resources to the office’s Human Trafficking Investigations Unit (HTIU).

The HTIU is designed to raise awareness about human trafficking and educate Hoosiers on how to address the problem in their communities. It works with county prosecutors and law enforcement at all levels to stop human trafficking.

The additional investigators and attorneys being assigned to the unit possess extensive law enforcement experience in the field. The unit works to catch and prosecute criminals involved in human trafficking.

The attorney general’s office said human trafficking—which involves both labor and sex trafficking—is one of the largest and fastest-growing problems in the world, just behind the drug trade.

In the U.S., statistics show 71 percent of labor trafficking victims entered the country on lawful visas. Furthermore, 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens. Both forms of trafficking tend to target marginalized groups.

Figures show the typical child brought into the commercial sex trade is between the ages of 12 and 14.

For more information, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or visit its website.