The Indianapolis 500, which is often called the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is right up there with the Super Bowl in terms of prestige and excitement.
Approximately 400,000 spectators will fill the track and the infield for this event this weekend.
But there’s a dark side to the race–one that pops up not just around the Indy 500 but lots of large events.
“It isn’t the sporting events per se,” Abby Kuzma, Consumer Protection Director at the Attorney General, says. “It’s with any kind of large event that attracts a lot of men and a party atmosphere. That’s what you’re looking for in terms of the statistical increase in demand for commercial sex and therefore danger of human trafficking.”
How Large Events Boost Demand For Sex
The Attorney General’s office began focusing on human trafficking in 2005. The office established IPATH – Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans.
Then prior to the Super Bowl coming to Indianapolis in 2012, there was a renewed effort.
Figures from the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami estimated 10,000 prostitutes were brought in, so Indiana’s legislature quickly moved to strengthen the state’s laws making it illegal for anyone to arrange for someone to participate in a forced sexual act and it made it easier to prosecute people who sold children into sexual slavery.
They distributed tens of thousands of pieces of awareness materials. Ultimately, police made 68 commercial sex arrests and four potential human trafficking victims were identified and recovered.
This year, nonprofit groups are also trying to raise awareness.
“Today we’re going out and we’re going to give out information on sex trafficking to local hotels,” Tracy Pruitt, president of BE FREE Indianapolis, said during an awareness event last weekend. “The Indy 500 will bring several people into the city from not just the United States but from the world and unfortunately everybody is not here just for the race. But there is a large demand for sex.”
The packets the group is handing out include information on what to look for in regard to sex trafficking. It also includes the national hotline people can call if they suspect someone might be a victim.
Then there’s the soap.
“We’re offering soap to the hotel room so maybe someone that is possibly a part of human trafficking, sex trafficking, they will get that bar of soap and it will have a number of the national human trafficking number, where they can call or if someone is suspecting someone of being human or sex trafficked,” Pruitt says.
Alyssia Haymond is a volunteer for BE FREE Indianapolis and walked around downtown last weekend, offering the soap to hotels.
“Overall everyone was pretty receptive,” she says. “The last hotel I went to, they didn’t say they could put the soap bars out as part of hotel policy, they had to have the brand name on the soap bars but they still took a bag of them and said just for purposes of awareness and giving them to housekeeping and having the number readily available.”
Who Is At Risk Of Sex Trafficking
The average age in the U.S. that someone is forced into the commercial sex industry is 12 to 14 years old, and, according to the U.S. Department of State, nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sex exploitation.
Those at risk include kids who’ve been through traumatic events such as physical abuse or have parents who suffer from alcoholism or domestic violence.
“It’s really it’s almost like a vicious cycle,” Stepanka Korytova, adjunct international studies instructor at IU, says. “When we should really look and help children who live in a family where there is abuse and help them psychologically, counseling and therapy because these children really are the most vulnerable population.”
If they don’t get help and they run away, their odds of being sucked into the commercial sex industry are high. Data shows within 48 hours of running away they will be approached by a trafficker.
“It’s just very important that we as a society start to recognize that this is the human rights abuse of our age,” Kuzma says. “Something needs to be done, and that something is a societal change in terms of our attitudes to the damage that commercial sex does.”