My interview with Shaunestte Terrell, Indiana Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
Human Trafficking and Missing Persons Division
Women Like Us Foundation is focusing April on Sex Trafficking with two events.
I met a girl last December, she was 20, on a night we picked up street walkers. They all were so messed up. They were all addicted to drugs. One girl said she had a pimp but her mother took the pimp away from her saying “I’m a better hooker than you.” I hope we can stop a 13 or 14-year-old from becoming that girl I met.
In my opinion the biggest problem we face in this country is lack of awareness. People don’t believe that sex trafficking is right here, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our cities,
in our schools, in our lives.
Everywhere, parents or kids or service workers in the schools are not aware of how prevalent sex trafficking is. Kids are recruited through social media, they are recruited walking down the street, at bus stops, in malls, even at the playground.
All the way through the system, there are still defense attorneys who don’t think it’s happening. And it is. Even right here in Indianapolis. They are in denial. Even the judges still don’t think it’s as prevalent as it is. They think they’re being diligent, but they’re not.
I have to craft my plea negotiations to look different depending on what judge has my case. Each judge I get has a different amount of understanding of the problem and I know who will take my cases more seriously than others.
The legislation in Indiana is getting better. In fact, it’s pretty good. If a person gets charged with promotion of human trafficking of a minor in Indiana, this means under the age of 18, whether there is consent or not, most can get anywhere from 3-16 years. But the same crime in the federal system is 30 years to life. That’s why, of course, we try to get the feds involved as much as we can. I love to file federally.
Cases are also difficult to investigate and try in front of a jury due to lack of awareness. Many times the jurors are not sympathetic to the victim because the victim doesn’t’ fit into a nice little box. What I mean by that is they don’t have a clean background perhaps, or they are not a part of the community, but rather transient. Or they have been involved in sexual abuse their whole lives, have tattoos, ear-piercing, they look like losers. And we only get about 20 minutes to educate the jurors during the selection process before we start the case. Asking jurors what they know about trafficking in 20 minutes doesn’t allow much understanding of our plea. In the questioning, the place I have to start is with the question, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Human Trafficking’?”
The way the law reads in Indiana is that sex trafficking is Human Trafficking. It’s a bit of a misnomer. When you say this to a jury, many think of a girl from overseas locked in a truck against her will. And that is the way it needs to be presented in the courts. But most of my cases are sex trafficked teenage girls from our own back yard who are vulnerable in many different ways and from many different situations.
It’s very rare that we have a victim immediately say yes to prosecution. The come from dire circumstances. They are missing something at home or they wouldn’t be so easy to exploit.
No money, no dad, mom working 3 jobs or maybe is an addict, lack of supervision at home. The trafficker figures out what they want more than anything else in the world. Love, stability, loyalty…and he gives it to them.
There was a saying I heard once that went something like, “Once you own the mind, you own the body.” This is what they do. They get into their minds, and eventually control their bodies. They sell them love, sell them dreams, then they are like putty in their hands. They give them a sense of family. It doesn’t start out where it ends up.