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Police target sex trafficking in runup to Super Bowl

ErKnowles program manager with SalvatiArmy STOP-IT program talks about how people can become ensnared prostitutiduring program Hobart Middle School Wednesday

Erin Knowles, program manager with the Salvation Army STOP-IT program talks about how people can become ensnared in prostitution during a program at Hobart Middle School Wednesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 27, 2012 10:02AM



HOBART — With Super Bowl hoopla about to descend on Indianapolis, fans are looking forward to enjoying the abundance of festivities around town.

But law enforcement and cab drivers will be on the lookout for something that typically stays in the shadows: sex trafficking.

Chicago Police Sgt. Traci Walker said police are monitoring several pimps’ Facebook accounts and many are talking about taking “their girls” down to Indianapolis. Walker and Erin Knowles, program manager of The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT Program, detailed various efforts to combat both sex and labor trafficking at a community discussion Wednesday night at Hobart Middle School.

Indianapolis cab drivers, as well as service employees in the city, have received special training on identifying potential victims of the commercial sex-trafficking industry. And a bill to toughen the penalties on sex traffickers is making its way through the Indiana General Assembly.

Walker said the sex trade lies just beneath the surface of purportedly legitimate businesses, such as massage parlors, acupuncture centers, spas, escort services, strip clubs and phone sex lines.

“If the windows are obscured and it’s open 24 hours, something’s not right,” Walker said.

Knowles and Walker talked about the sobering statistics that lead people into the sex trade and how difficult it is for them to untangle themselves. The average age of someone who enters the commercial sex industry is 12 years old, and at least 70 percent were victims of sexual abuse before they became prostitutes. And about 97 percent were forced, threatened, or coerced to enter the sex trade.

Many victims are even in denial that they are indeed victims.

“I met a 15-year-old girl in the hospital,” Knowles said. “She was trying to leave her pimp and she was slashed in the face with a glass bottle. She was convinced that her pimp had nothing to do with the attack, that one of the other girls was just jealous.”

Knowles said about half of the women she works with successfully escape from their pimps. Many have children and don’t want them to end up in the same position, Knowles said.

If there are suspicions about sex trafficking, residents should contact police or the STOP-IT hotline at (877) 606-3158.



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