Even though Batesville is mentioned in the Cincinnati Backpage Report, an analysis of sex trafficking within Greater Cincinnati, area law enforcement officials say no recent arrests of this type have been made.
The study, released Jan. 11 by the Imagine Foundation, Cleveland (read the entire report at http://imaginefreedom.org), defines sex trafficking as “forced prostitution, domestic minor sex trafficking and/or the commercial sexual exploitation of children.”
Those types of crimes are part of a broader category called human trafficking, which Indiana Code 35-42-3.5 states is “a person who, by force, threat of force, or fraud, knowingly or intentionally recruits, harbors or transports another person to engage the other person in forced labor; involuntary servitude; or to force the other person into marriage, prostitution or participating in sexual conduct.” Under new rules, persons who deal in certain aspects of human trafficking face felony charges between levels 3-5, which means minimum sentences would be between one and three years after July 1, when it takes effect.
The report examines the commercial sex advertisements of Cincinnati.backpage.com “with the assumption that sex trafficking hides within and follows commercial sex markets.” Researchers logged onto the escorts tab of the adult services ads Web site daily from June 1 through Aug. 31, 2013. “We found during this period, 2,965 advertisements for commercial sex within the Greater Cincinnati area, representing a total of 602 distinctive phone numbers and 104 distinct area codes .... We found an inordinate amount of commercial sex advertisements coming out of the following areas: Sharonville, the downtown Cincinnati area, Springdale, Northgate, Norwood, Fairfield, Batesville, Harrison, Covington, Newport and the Western Hills area.”
Of 15 areas listed, two were in Indiana: Batesville/Harrison (Ohio), with 17 ads, and casinos in southeastern Indiana and northern Kentucky, with 20 ads. When Imagine Foundation executive director Jesse Bach was asked how many ads came from Batesville, he answered, “I am unable to differentiate which ads were from Batesville and which were from Harrison as they all listed specifically Batesville/Harrison.”
Sgt. Noel Houze, Indiana State Police Versailles District public information officer, said sex trafficking “is something rarely investigated” by the agency.
Batesville Police Chief Stan Holt said the Imagine Foundation has not shared Batesville phone numbers and places for investigative purposes. He noted, “The report indicates they referenced Batesville due to the 812 area code, which covers a large portion of southeastern Indiana. I believe it would be beneficial for the foundation to work closer with law enforcement on their findings.”
What evidence or situations that involve sex trafficking should area residents be looking for and report to police? The chief replied, “I believe most citizens, especially parents, have that natural instinct to recognize when a situation or activity just doesn’t look right. I would recommend they notify law enforcement immediately when they have the slightest suspicion of criminal activity.”
Ripley County Sheriff Tom Grills reported, “A lot of the human trafficking training I’ve been to over the past few years says to pay attention to the way homes are kept. If the windows are boarded up, (there’s) not much traffic or too much traffic and people coming and going from the home. If people are out in the community with two or three girls and they’re not allowed to talk to people, those would be indicators something’s not right.” Please see sidebar for more signs of the crime.
According to Houze, “I have checked our database and the best I can find is only one human trafficking investigation conducted by ISP in the last few years and I believe this is still an ongoing investigation in another area of Indiana that began early last year.”
Indiana State Excise Police investigator Tim Sutton, who works in southeast Indiana, observed when these cases are discovered, they are “very complex. You have to track money.”
Around 2008, he was helping investigate a chain of Asian massage parlors offering sex services in Dearborn and Floyd counties, Richmond and northern Kentucky. Sutton recalled, “One was trying to get open in Batesville in Cross County Plaza. It was tied to the other spas. The (local police) chief at that time went over and flat-out told them they weren’t going to be opening up.”
During the long-term investigation, officers interviewed prostitution clients leaving different premises. They ranged from a judge and Cincinnati police officers to Ripley County residents, according to Sutton.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement and translators helped when the prostitutes were questioned. Sutton felt this was a human trafficking case because the women, who were in the U.S. illegally, mostly from South Korea, couldn’t leave. “They were staying there 24 hours a day.”
Multiple raids were conducted at once. “We probably arrested over 40-some girls that day,” but not for sex trafficking. However, the Cincinnati female mastermind, local men who applied for the business licenses and the prostitutes themselves were charged with racketeering, corrupt business influence, promoting prostitution, money laundering and theft, because they weren’t paying sales taxes. “A lot of them were taken by ICE” and deported.
The foundation director wanted area residents to realize sex trafficking “is a demand-driven situation. While most everyone just thinks of the trafficker and the victim, the situation only happens because there are customers (primarily men) who want to pay for commercial sex, sometimes with children. Your readers should work to reduce demand which, in time, would eliminate supply. Teach men that women and children are not objects to be bought and sold.”
Grills predicted the crime could happen here in the future. “It could be 10 weeks, 10 months or 10 years ... the I-74 corridor creates a lot of our problems” as persons travel between Chicago and Cincinnati. The ISP officer agreed, “It wouldn’t be out of the question. This type of crime often involves illegal immigrants and runaway juveniles. Therefore, it is hard to detect. Because of their illegal status, victims are usually afraid to come forward for fear of arrest and deportation. Runaways rarely come forward either.”
Holt concluded, “Although this type of crime has not been detected in our area, we recognize that we are not immune from it. I would encourage citizens to continue working with our police department to protect our community.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
Houze said there are four indicators of sex trafficking, according to the FBI. General indicators • People who live on or near work premises • Individuals with restricted or controlled communication and transportation • Persons frequently moved by traffickers • A living space with a large number of occupants • People lacking private space, personal possessions or financial records • Someone with limited knowledge about how to get around in a community Physical indicators • Injuries from beatings or weapons • Signs of torture, such as cigarette burns • Brands or scarring, indicating ownership • Signs of malnourishment Financial and legal indicators • Someone else has possession of an individual's legal or travel documents • Existing debt issues • One attorney claiming to represent multiple illegal aliens detained at different locations • A third party who insists on interpreting. Did the victim sign a contract? Brothel indicators • Large amounts of cash and condoms • Customer logbook or receipt book ("trick book") • Sparse rooms • Men come and go frequently To get help If someone suspects a sex trafficking incident, the National Human Sex Trafficking Hotline should be called immediately at 888-373-7888. Online resources www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking; www.soroptimist.org/trafficking/faq.html; www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/overview; www.ice.gov/human-trafficking/.