Editor's note: Journal Gazette reporter Jamie Duffy looks at the issue of human trafficking in a package of stories that starts on Page 1C. As part of her investigation, she posed questions to Special Agent Jeffrey Robertson of the Indianapolis Division of the FBI. Robertson specializes in cases involving human trafficking and violent crimes against children.
Q. How widespread is the problem of human trafficking in northeastern Indiana compared to the rest of the nation; are there any stats?
A. If you have looked at The Polaris Project (a nonprofit, non-governmental organization established to fight human trafficking), you will see where “reported” human trafficking problem areas are. You have to remember that, with any study, the information we obtain from it is only as good as what is being put in to it. That being said, if you look at the “hot” spots on a map, you will see major cities are going to be the locations where most trafficking occurs.
We will see labor trafficking and sex trafficking in Indiana; however, sex trafficking for Indiana is our biggest problem. The general rule of thumb we use is that if there is a hotel, you will find sex trafficking. Indiana is in a location for the track from Illinois/Michigan, all the way down to Texas and Florida.
Q. What should people look for?
A. That question is not as simple as it sounds. It all depends on what you do. A hospital employee, a teacher, a social worker, a (Department of Child Services) employee, or simply the owner of a business – many of these groups have received training on human trafficking awareness which address their specific areas of interaction with potential victims.
Q. And how can they report it if they see something that looks like trafficking?
A. Call your local authorities and/or the FBI tip line. The information will get to us so that we can investigate. Something for people to remember is that if you report human trafficking to the authorities and you do not hear anything about it, do not take that as nothing is happening. It does not mean we are not working on it; it simply might be that we were already aware of the information or that the information is part of a case we are already working.
Q. What qualifies as human trafficking?
A. The federal statutes is what we use to guide us. ... The root of all our statutes is involuntary servitude/slavery or forced labor and doing so through force, fraud or coercion. Coercion, when specifically speaking of anyone under the age of 18, can be established due to the fact that an adult can coerce a minor to engage in sexual acts for money because they are simply an adult.
Q. Case in point, a local man was arrested in August on gun and drug charges. When the arrest was made, police found nine women in his home, six of them underage. There was a hue and cry and one woman told police the man arrested was running a prostitution ring out of his home.
A. I cannot comment on the case specifically; however, I can give you a general answer. Just because something may appear to be human trafficking, it does not necessarily mean that it is. Human trafficking cases are extremely hard to prove due to the fact we have to build the trust of the victim. And, there are many concerns with victims and what the psychological damage to a victim has been. The No. 1 goal of any human trafficking case is what is best for the victim. Sexual assault is sexual assault if it includes human trafficking or not. These cases are treated the same way. No one wakes up one day and says, “I want to have sex with strangers for money.”
There was just a case out of Marion County, Krisean Porter, who was convicted of promoting human trafficking. The more success we see with prosecution, the better society will understand what it is all about. The initial reaction to a person who has been exploited is, “Well, why didn't you just stop it?” Perspective is huge here; unless you know exactly what this person has been through, you have no gauge to judge why this person has done what they have done. Your perspective is that I would never allow anyone to treat me this way.
And I challenge that by asking one question, what would you do to protect your family, a child, or your own life? If the answer is anything, then there is your answer to why. Sacrificing ourselves for those we love is much easier than to sacrifice our loved one.
Q. Where are you likely to find those charged with this?
A. All of the police departments and sheriff's offices we have worked with through the years try to get the information out to the media for the purpose of spreading the word that human trafficking exists in Indiana and in our small communities. However, going back to one of your earlier questions, something that appears to be human trafficking may not be, and even if it is human trafficking, can we prove it? What charge can we ultimately get the best sentence for and keeping in mind the best chance of not traumatizing the victim(s) any further?
Q. So, is there a human trafficking problem in Indiana? Where does human trafficking take place? Like, at hotels during large sporting events?
A. Indiana definitely has a human trafficking problem. It happens in hotels, at houses, truck stops, parking lots, during large sporting events – anytime there is an influx of money and people, we will see human trafficking. Every single human-trafficking operation we have conducted around the state has resulted in the recovery of victims.
Q. What steps is the FBI taking to combat trafficking?
A. The FBI has focused on training both local law enforcement and community members. The goal of providing training to local law enforcement is to build the team approach to combating human trafficking and to continue as force multipliers. The training shows investigators best practices for achieving successful operations through large- and small-scale targeted enforcement operations. The team we have built to assist with the FBI training all speak on their particular areas of experience, not just from a book.