Indiana passes human trafficking law in time for Super Bowl

Indiana lawmakers passed tough human trafficking legislation this week -- just in time to prevent an event where thousands of young girls could get bought and sold for sex.

“The Super Bowl is a huge human trafficking event,” said State Sen. Randy Head, (R-Logansport). “They’re running sophisticated rings -- trading girls from city to city.”

Organized criminals are known to exploit young women and children through gatherings such as the Super Bowl. In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 10,000 prostitutes were brought to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami. In 2011, more than 100 people were arrested for prostitution in Dallas during Super Bowl weekend.

Head says the victims would have gone unnoticed. Thousands of people are already descending upon Indianapolis and there will be more than 150,000 visitors this weekend. The state's message to pimps and ‘johns’ is a strong one: not this time around.

“Indiana will not tolerate it,” Head said.

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The law, which took effect Monday with Gov. Mitch Daniels’ signature, closes previous loopholes. It is now against the law for anybody to arrange for a person to participate in any forced sexual act. Before, Indiana law only prohibited forced marriage and prostitution.

Also, the law makes it easier to prosecute those who sell children into sexual slavery. It reduces the burden on a prosecutor to prove coercion. Before, prosecutors had to prove a victim was threatened or physically forced into sexual slavery. Traffickers could escape prosecution by claiming the victim wasn’t being held against their will.

The new law extends the definition of sex trafficking and increases penalties. There are also new training recommendations for hotel employees and cab drivers. The employees can look for warning signs in possible victims. Experts say red flags include young girls, dressed inappropriately, who seem quiet, insecure and avoid eye contact. They also say it’s suspicious when this profile of a girl checks into a hotel with no luggage.

“What they did is amazing,” said Linda Smith, the president and founder of Shared Hope International. “I met with the governor less than two months ago. He met with the legislature that same week. They fast-tracked a piece of legislation to warn the traffickers – this is not a good place to do business.”

Smith is a former Republican U.S. congresswoman from Washington state. Her nonprofit organization works with states across the country to beef up weak human trafficking laws. Shared Hope International, in conjunction with the American Center for Law & Justice, recently graded Indiana, along with every state in the country, on the scope of its human trafficking laws.

Indiana got a ‘D’. Not long after, Smith began talking with Gov. Mitch Daniels. She says the fact the bill was passed as quickly as it was, in time for the game, provides national visibility and it is a huge win in the war against human trafficking. That being said, she says state lawmakers need to do more when it comes to prosecuting the buyers. She said future legislation should specifically list punishments for ‘johns’ who purchase underage women.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but they made a strong first statement at a perfect time because a lot of people will now know Indianapolis is now watching. Buyers might now think twice before they buy,” she said.

The proclamation sends a message not only to perpetrators, but also other lawmakers across the nation. Smith says lawmakers have the power to eliminate the demand by passing laws like the one in Indiana.

“The Super Bowl -- or any large sports game -- always draws traffickers and they bring the product line because there are a lot of men that are used to buying commercial sex around these events,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, it draws minors as a product line. People bring in kids. So what has happened in Indianapolis is absolutely amazing. The leadership standing up saying – we’re going to send a message to traffickers saying we’re not a good place for you to be bringing kids or vulnerable women to sell.”