Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, in Tippecanoe County are learning to identify youths who are at-risk of becoming human trafficking victims. They’re also learning how to talk about the issue when red flags appear.
County CASA Executive Director Coleen Connor says human trafficking may not yet be a significant problem, locally. But she wants to prepare the volunteers for what’s likely to come in the future.
Connor says her staff works with youths who often feel isolated or unloved, and the trauma they’ve experienced makes them vulnerable.
“How they get drawn into these groups, is because someone looks at them as though, ‘I really like you,’ and they start this quote-unquote relationship that lasts a very short time. And from that point they get this young person indoctrinated into that whole culture.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s office last year reported the majority of sex trafficking victims are girls, age 15 and younger, many of whom are involved in the courts or the child welfare system prior to being recruited by adults.
But Connor says any teen who doesn’t feel loved is at-risk. And the search for someone who cares about them may lead to the internet, where they’ll may find people who exploit vulnerable kids.
“So that adds to these youths that are already at risk and possibly isolated in some manner, when they reach out to other people on the internet,” Connor says. “I mean, that has added such magnitude to this.”
A representative from the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program will provide basic training for CASA volunteers and advocates from social service agencies Tuesday evening.
Connor says she plans to host additional events to increase community awareness and initiate conversations that may help young people escape from traffickers.