Local youth workers learn how to spot human trafficking
It's a crime against children that's so prevalent it requires it's own statewide task force.
Now area youth workers are learning how to spot human trafficking.
There are young victims.
Experts say there are Hoosier victims as young as elementary school.
That's why local youth workers are getting training on warning signs that could be life-saving.
Inside Safe Station youth shelter in South Bend, when teens climb into bed, lights go off, but sometimes traumatic memories stay on.
"We've had a few victims of trafficking that have come through the shelter, and one of the things that's really significant with their behavior is that they're very skittish," said Development Director Christina McGovern, Youth Service Bureau.
It's a safe place, it's even written on the walls, but McGovern says many teens lack trust.
"We don't want to re-traumatize a young person by asking questions the wrong way. So all of our staff is trained," said McGovern.
It's the same training dozens of youth workers got for free at the St. Joseph County Public library.
They're learning from the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program, that nearly half of victims report homelessness as a risk factor.
Often running from the people they were taught to trust.
"In reality, it can be a family member trafficking their niece, nephew, daughter son, right out of their home. It doesn't even really need to be in plain sight," said Ian Hurst, Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance.
He said anyone can learn the red flags to look for:
- A person with no idea where they are geographically
- Having a tattoo that says "daddy"
- A person with unexplained physical injuries
-Inconsistencies in their story about who they say is their guardian
McGovern said learning how to approach teens with non-judgmental questions has helped identify victims and shown them home even if it's a shelter is the place you feel safe.
"It's very difficult to get them to trust and it just takes some time. You have to be patient," said McGovern
Experts learned, it's critical that if they suspect human trafficking they should call the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline and say the words "I suspect human trafficking."
That can speed up the investigation process.