Corinne Stevens and Shannon Tenney didn't know each other until a few days ago.
But they met through their desire to bring “the difficult and uncomfortable discussions about the reality and horror of human trafficking, primarily child sex trafficking,” to the forefront, Stevens said at the Allen County Courthouse Green on Thursday.
Friends, family and supporters who found their event “Hoosiers Against Human Trafficking” on Facebook stood on the Clinton Street sidewalk, holding their signs aloft.
“Real Men Don't Buy Children,” one sign read. Another: “Save the Children.”
Jessica Burke brought her three children, hoping to help the cause.
“I just think child trafficking is one of the worst injustices happening in the world right now,” Burke said.
Nicholas Devereaux of Fort Wayne, holding a sign that read “Human Trafficking” with a black line through it, said he came to be enlightened on the subject and “stand up against it.”
An article in The Journal Gazette published Nov. 10, 2019, found that human trafficking occurs globally and in every state in the U.S.
“Victims are recruited, transported, transferred or harbored through force, abduction, fraud or coercion for improper purposes including forced labor or sex, according to the United Nations,” the article said.
The FBI office in Indianapolis said sex trafficking is the biggest problem in Indiana, though evidence of labor trafficking exists too.
“The general rule of thumb we use is that if there is a hotel, you will find sex trafficking,” FBI Indianapolis Special Agent Jeffrey Robertson said.
Capt. Kevin Hunter, head of the Vice & Narcotics unit for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said his unit has investigated hotels in Fort Wayne with the help of the FBI.
“Teaching nurses, hotel clerks and others (who) may come into contact with a human trafficking victim is extremely helpful as these people are sometimes the first to notice this horrible situation,” Hunter wrote in an email Thursday. “The people who have been training in recognizing human trafficking situations then have a duty to notify the police who will investigate.
“The best thing that a citizen can do to fight human trafficking is, if they see something, say something. If some situation doesn't look right, it probably isn't.”
“Fort Wayne has had human trafficking cases, and they are very difficult cases to work,” Hunter continued. “Typically the victim has been psychologically tricked and manipulated into believing that the trafficker is their only friend and that all police are against them.
“It typically takes many days or weeks to get the victim to trust the detective to be able to tell them their story. Once their story comes out, the detective can make their case against the trafficker, and help the victim start on the road to recovering from this horrible situation.”
Stevens, a restaurant server and yoga teacher, and Tenney, director of health and wellness at Avenues, an addiction recovery facility set to open in two weeks on Fairfield Avenue, both have young children.
Their next step is to contact law enforcement or government officials, Tenney said.
“I feel like God called me to do this,” Stevens said. “I'm in it for the long haul.”