INDIANAPOLIS — During their next session, some state lawmakers plan to reintroduce a bill that would heighten penalties and better protect victims of human trafficking in Indiana.
According to a report from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, in 2019 more than 150 human trafficking cases were reported in Indiana. That’s a nearly 20%.
The issue has gained the attention of Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich and his wife Linda.
Three years ago, the couple started the foundation Knot Today which works to combat child exploitation.
“When we came to the state, we realized that it’s not just border states. It’s alive and well in Indiana,” said Knot Today Founder and Chair Linda Reich. “The reality is the numbers don’t begin to tell the story.”
The proposal discussed Tuesday passed both the Indiana Senate and State House of Representatives last session without a single vote in opposition.
“My goal with that bill was to eradicate human trafficking in the state of Indiana and close any loopholes that might be left,” said State Representative Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville).
The bill authored by McNamara would have removed consent from the victim as a defense and allowed young victims to submit video statements instead of testifying in court.
However, a senate amendment was later introduced that would have provided a defense for those facing prosecution if they said they didn’t know a child victim was under 18.
“Because you purchased a human being, it doesn’t matter if you knew or didn’t know if they were under 18,” McNamara said.
After the amendment, the bill died. But McNamara said she plans to reintroduce it next session.
State Representative John Bartlett, who has also worked on the legislation, said the issue remains urgent.
“With the COVID situation and our children being on the internet constantly, those violators are able to get with our children,” said Rep. Bartlett (D-Indianapolis).
Now lawmakers feel more optimistic about the bill’s chances of clearing both parts of the state legislature.
“It’s one of those awareness-type situations. A lot of people think that this is something that happens in some faraway place,” said State Senator Michael Crider (R-Greenfield). “It’s something that happens right in our backyard.”
We did reach out to the state senator who introduced the amendment to the bill last year and are waiting to hear back.
The next legislative session begins in January, which would be when lawmakers could begin the process to make the bill into law.