Sex trafficking skyrockets in Topeka: What you need to know

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Several raids in Northeast Kansas on Tuesday for alleged prostitution operations are a reminder sex trafficking is happening right here in our area, and advocates say increased awareness and new laws could help stop it.

Human trafficking numbers have skyrocketed in the Topeka area since 2014 when they identified just four victims.

"We thought that that was probably a lot for this area, the next year it was 45, the next year it was 92, and last year was 131,” Executive Director for the Topeka Rescue Mission Barry Feaker said.

Hiding in plain sight, human trafficking can be easy for the public to overlook.

"There's a saying that says the eyes cannot see what the mind does not understand or comprehend,” Feaker said.

But, Feaker claims the signs of trafficking are numerous, and one of the most obvious is if a person seems like they are being controlled by someone else and don’t make eye contact.

“Somebody who isn't dressing appropriately for the time of year, or a facility where there's lots of trafficking going in and out that seems unusual, maybe primarily men coming and going in 15 minute intervals or 30 minute intervals," Feaker said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed three indictments, alleging a massage parlor in Topeka, one in Salina, and two more in Lawrence were fronts for prostitution. Five people face federal charges.

Kansas is one of three states that does not regulate massage parlors. Attorney General Derek Schmidt believes it should. However, a bill introduced to regulate massage parlors this past legislative session never even got a hearing.

The Mission recently led efforts to launch the Freedom USA Coalition - bringing together community leaders to form a game plan.

"We're going to bring in national experts on this issue into Topeka over the next year, we're going to learn from them what they've learned in other places…and we're going to be proactive. Hopefully a year from now we'll have a good game plan,” Feaker said.

Red Flags – Signs of Human Trafficking

  • Lack of knowledge of community or whereabouts
  • Restricted or controlled communication
  • Individual lives with their employer or on the job site
  • Not in control of own identification (ID/Passport)
  • Branding/tattooing of name or image denoting ownership
  • Not dressed for season or place
  • Shows signs of physical/ sexual abuse/ malnourished
  • Older boyfriend or new friends with different lifestyle/values
  • Appears unusually fearful or anxious
  • Adolescent accompanies by a controlling adult

What to Report:

  • Indicate: “This looks like a human trafficking situation.”
  • Description of vehicle(s) (make, model, color, license plate #)
  • Descriptions of people (height, weight, hair/eye color, age, etc.)
  • Specific times and dates of suspicious activity
  • Addresses and locations of suspicious activity

Where to Report:

  • 911: Call 911 if you witness a crime being committed.
  • Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 if you see a suspicious situation that could be human trafficking.

Warning
Do not approach traffickers, they are dangerous and you could cause harm to yourself, the victim or impede eventual prosecution.