Newswise — Fast cars may lure many to Indianapolis this time of year, but for a group of Indiana State University students the mission this Saturday (May 17) will be to shine a light on human trafficking ahead of next week's Indy 500.
After a 10 a.m. required training with SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) at New Wineskin Ministries, 4501 W. 38th St., volunteers will split into teams and visit hotels, bars and strip clubs near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to distribute soap labeled with the human trafficking hotline number, 1-888-373-7888, and provide information on identifying and reporting human trafficking. A suggested donation of $10/per person for the training will cover materials and lunch.
"It's important for graduate students in counseling to participate in events like this because it helps them understand on a very personal level what is required to make positive change in society," said Catherine Tucker, associate professor of counseling in Indiana State's Bayh College of Education, who will join students for the outreach. "When they participate in grassroots efforts to end a terrible social injustice, like sex trafficking, students learn to advocate effectively."
This will be the second human trafficking outreach program Indiana State students participated in this year. They traveled to New Jersey prior to the Super Bowl to work with the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Be Free Dayton and SOAP.
"I was intrigued by what I learned and when we were finished there, I said I would love to head up a team in the Indianapolis area during the Indy 500," said Tracy Pruitt, an Indiana State adjunct professor who joined the group from ISU on the Super Bowl outreach. "We'll go to local hotels around Speedway and share with them information about human trafficking, like we did at the Super Bowl, and ask if they'll put the soap in their hotel rooms."
Whether it's at the Super Bowl or the Indy 500, for Ritika Latke, a graduate student from Mumbai, India who is studying clinical mental health counseling, the outreach is all about helping victims find a way out of their situations.
"If we are successful at saving one girl, her family can also be rescued. In the future, she can rescue other victims too," said Latke, who wants to use her experience to use building awareness about human trafficking in her native country. "Outreach in Indianapolis will certainly give me insight about this particular state and some facts and figures about sex trafficking. I hope to connect with more people and educate them about the conditions of sex trafficking victims and help society to eradicate human trafficking."
Sex trafficking occurs whenever a person, often the young and vulnerable, is forced into the commercial sex trade against his or her will. According to the U.S. State Department, child and human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world after the illegal drug trade.
"Most people don't know that human trafficking is the second leading crime worldwide, and that it happens in Indianapolis too," Pruitt said. "Unfortunately, victims are sometimes picked up on college and university campuses, which means there are more people at-risk of being trafficked than we sometimes think. Oftentimes, people in college communities are unaware of what's going on around them because they're so involved in class work and their own lives, and they're not aware of what is happening around them."
It will be a small scale outreach in Indianapolis on Saturday, but Pruitt said plans are in the works to do two to three similar outreach projects per year at large events, including at the NCAA's Final Four in Indianapolis.
"I was really shocked by how receptive the hotels and motels were to us at the Super Bowl," Pruitt said. "Once we went in and educated the hotel staffs, they told us that they may have seen people in this type of situation go through (their hotels) before, but they weren't aware of it at the time. Now they have a heightened awareness due to training we give them on the spot."
Training includes tips for spotting human trafficking, such as looking for expensive vehicles at lower-end hotels and motels.
"It was the type of thing we saw when we went to New Jersey for the Super Bowl," Pruitt said. "When volunteers go inside hotels and motels, they show them a list of boys and girls who have been reported missing in the area and ask if they've seen these people. Volunteers explain that they're out to stop human trafficking and ask the hotel staffs to put the bars of soap in their rooms."
It's a lot of faith to put into a palm-sized bar of soap, but Pruitt said it could be a victim's only path to freedom.
"Research is still being done on the effectiveness of outreaches like this, but we do know that at least 20 girls were rescued during the Super Bowl," she said. "It's hard to give exact numbers because a lot of times the victims don't call the hotline that week, but they keep the soap with them. Once they're able to, they bring the soap out and call for help."