October 25 – In Our Own Backyard

On October 25, the event “In Our Own Backyard” brought together a powerful panel focused on raising awareness and tackling the issue of child sex trafficking in Central Indiana. The panel included IndyStar opinion editor Tim Swarens, IMPD Detective Sergeant Jon Daggy, Ascent121 psychologist Dr. Hugh Hanlin, and child-sex trafficking survivor Heather Sewell. The event took place in a room filled to maximum capacity at the Christian Theological Seminary.

Swarens informed attendees about some of the alarming statistics of trafficking in Central Indiana, including the fact that nine children from Hamilton County were purchased for sex in 2016, with the youngest being 11 years old. Sewell followed by talking about her experience as a survivor, and how she spent five years being trafficked in Gary, Indiana. The audience was shocked to hear some of the techniques she was taught in order to “maximize profits.” An example she gave is that she appealed to some men because they wanted to be with a Latina woman; but furthermore, she was taught to alter her ethnicity if a buyer wanted otherwise. So, if a man was interested in purchasing an Indian woman, she would place a red dot on her forehead in order to be bought.

Dr. Hanlin explored the psyche of the buyers and talked about the impact of pornography on men. He also elaborated that many boys are taught to believe that women are willing to do any sexual act that men want and porn use might play a role in this misconception. Dr. Hanlin explained that he used to work with domestic violence survivor sand noticed a lot of parallels in men’s behavior between domestic violence and sex trafficking incidents. Sergeant Daggy mentioned that every year there is a movement to legalize prostitution, but he does not believe that it is a solution to the issue. Additionally, he talked about brothels, and how they are not regulated and thus result in a dangerous environment for women.

During the closing, each panelist was asked about what gives them hope despite the depressing nature of the topic. Sewell said that being on the outside gives her hope.She explained that it took her three years to truly detox from the experiences she has been through and to learn who she truly is on the inside. She also said she is happy that she has the opportunity to talk about and work against the issue from the outside. Daggy said that seeing survivor leaders working against trafficking is what inspires him and gives him hope. What gives Hanlin hope is the possibility of talking about sex trafficking with young people, primarily in high schools,  empowering girls by making them aware of the dangers of trafficking, and teaching boys that buying women for sex is not be a healthy option. Last, Swarens’s hope is that research is being done on the subject and progress is happening in identifying victims. Attendees left the venue with a somber but positive attitude: little by little, we will defeat this complex problem.

In Our Own Backyard is a partnership with Ascent121.

Read “Only 12, and Bought for Sex in Indiana” by Tim Swarens

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