ANDERSON — Reported numbers on sex trafficking of minors in the U.S. and Indiana are flawed, and agencies at the heads of trafficking prevention know this.
Specific numbers for sex trafficking in Madison County do not exist yet. The Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program doesn't have numbers broken down by county, and national services like the Human Trafficking Hotline don't have them broken down below the state level.
Suspicions of sex trafficking of minors can be reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and Indiana Department of Child Services. These agencies follow up on reports and, from there, an investigation may follow, ITVAP regional coordinator Jessica Herzog said.
"Those two organizations don't talk to each other," she said. "In reality, this is a lot bigger than what we see."
While the Indiana assistance program reports all tips to both agencies, most other organizations do not communicate with each other, which muddies the waters, Herzog said.
Adding to the statistical confusion, minors who are trafficked often don't identify as victims, are usually addicted to drugs, and have other issues, including truancy. Rather than being reported as a trafficking case, they can be placed in juvenile detention, drug treatment programs or other alternate schooling options, according to the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans task force.
Polaris, the organization that runs the national toll-free hotline, made a heat map of all human trafficking reports throughout the United States. A red dot indicated areas of saturated reports, and Indiana was completely covered in red.
"Let's say this map is an illness outbreak. What would happen?" Herzog said. "Everybody would be freaking out. We would see it on the news every day, people would be running to Costco to fill up their carts, the world is ending."
However, the discomfort surrounding human trafficking — combined with public disbelief of trafficking happening in their own hometowns — keeps the topic from making headlines, or becoming a regular topic of discussion, Herzog said.
"Do we see this in the news a lot? Absolutely not," she said. "Are people comfortable talking about it? Not really."
In 2017, ITVAP received 93 reports of human trafficking through its hotline, which does not include Department of Child Services reports or tips filed in other ways. The assistance program served nearly 600 trafficked, sexually exploited and high-risk youth, just within ITVAP service providers.
In 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 283 calls. From January to June 2018, the hotline reported 152 calls.
"It could be a much bigger picture and I'm sure there are many, many more cases that actually occurred," Herzog said. "But because we don't have the other piece of the puzzle, we don't have the full picture."
Follow Laura Arwood on Twitter @lauraarwood or call 765-648-4284.