I-Team 8

70M files on US child sexual abuse raise calls for harsher Indiana penalties on traffickers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — kNot Today, an organization that helps fund areas of restoration for victims of sexual abuse or trafficking, pushed Tuesday for Indiana legislators to take stronger action against perpetrators.

The effort came as the National Human Trafficking Hotline says 157 human trafficking cases were reported in Indiana in 2019, which is a 19% increase from 2018.

“You, the legislators, say, ‘Let’s make Indiana a no-trafficking zone,'” Linda Reich, president of kNot Today, told legislators in her testimony in support of a bill that increases penalties for buyers and traffickers and allows victims to give a video statement instead of having to be physically present in a courtroom with their attackers.

“There’s no question that how things have been set up, typically across the country, it protects adults, and that needs to be reversed,” Reich said.

Rep. Wendy McNamara first brought the legislation to the floor in 2020. After going through the Indiana House, she says the Senate added an amendment that she couldn’t sign off on.

“The one thing that stopped it from going through this past year was an amendment that was added in the Senate that basically said that if I was purchasing somebody and I didn’t know that they were 18, I could use that as a defense and not be charged with the harsher crime,” the Republican legislator from Mount Vernon said. “In my opinion, purchasing of anyone, regardless of age, should not be a defense.”

McNamara’s legislation proposes removing “mistake of age” as a defense for purchasing sex from a minor. The Republican tells I-Team 8 she will reintroduce the bill to the floor in January.

There was a group “of human traffickers coming out of Tennessee” to Indiana, McNamara said. “They’re not afraid to cross our borders and come into our state.”

However, I-Team 8 found that while legislators are trying to protect state borders, the internet is entirely different challenge. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization received over 21.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation in the United States.

Lia Reich, advocacy director for kNot Today, said, “Every single report has probably several files that are within that report. You’re really looking at something along the lines of 70 million files that were out there just last year of children being abused sexually by adults.”

Lia Reich says the issue is now an epidemic with the rise of the internet and social media.

“This issue knows no demographic,” she said. “People need to understand that this could be the man in his basement, in his mom’s basement, but it could also be the man making $300,000 in a stable job with three kids who is trading this material online or consuming this material.”

Just last week, a judge sentenced a Texas man for sexually exploiting a Indiana girl, 14, through Instagram.

kNot Today says part of its mission is to educate parents on what to watch out for to protect their kids.

“People think that this just happens in urban communities,” Linda Reich said. “No, this is alive and well in Zionsville, in Carmel.”

kNot Today has created a parent guide book on things to look for. Linda Reich says it’s on adults to create change. “Shame on us as a community, shame on us as a country, if we as adults do not start convicting and prosecuting the perpetrators.”