INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Clerks at Indiana convenience stores are being armed with a new tool to keep the community safe. They're being trained on how to spot human trafficking victims and how to get them help.
Think about how often you go to the same convenience store in your neighborhood. You might even know the clerk you see when you stop for gas before work by name. It’s those relationships that could save lives when human trafficking victims pass through the store. A national organization, In Our Backyard, has already trained about 500 clerks here in Indiana and the program is expanding to the Indianapolis area.
You hear the phrase all the time, “if you see something say something.” But you can't say something if you don't recognize a crime happening right in front of you.
“We went through convenience stores multiple times a day whether it was gas, getting more condoms, girls running in to freshen up before another call. I think had they known the signs of a victim they may have been able to play a role in helping," one human trafficking survivor said in the organization's training video.
The national advocacy group launched the Convenience Stores Against Trafficking initiative last year during the Super Bowl. The group realized victims pass through convenience stores frequently and the people who work there should be armed with the tools to get help.
"They really are in every community in our country, and they care about their communities. They have longer hours of operation so they're going to see a little different crowd late at night," In Our Backyard Program Director Julianna Williams said.
The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association has partnered with In Our Backyard to train clerks to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
"Someone who's not going to give eye contact, they seem like they're being controlled by another individual. Can be young person, older person. Can be male or female and can be a victim of labor or sex trafficking," Williams said.
The clerks will watch a training video and have access to resources to connect victims with help. Also, freedom stickers will be placed in the bathroom stalls since that's one of the only times a victim may be alone.
"Unfortunately, exploiting human beings is profitable and so we're seeing it creep up there and it's the second largest fastest growing crime right after drug trafficking. So it's a real problem in our country. If one life, if one person is spared, is recovered because of this it's worth it," Williams said.
More than 11,000 stores nationwide have trained their store clerks. But any business can request training material and freedom stickers. For more information visit inourbackyard.org or call the national human trafficking hotline at 888-3737-888.