By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
The 2012 Super Bowl is expected to bring thousands of fans and millions of dollars to the state’s capital city, but some state lawmakers fear it may also bring a bustling sex trade that exploits children.
Prompted by concerns of past Super Bowl host cities that reported an influx of underage prostitutes, some legislators are looking at how they could fast-track legislation next year that would add child trafficking to the state’s sex offenses.
“There needs to be a sense of urgency about this,” said state Rep. Suzanne Crouch, a Republican from Evansville. Crouch authored the bill that directs a legislative study committee to look at whether current state law on child solicitiation needs to be expanded.
Backing the push for a change in the law is Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who is part of a national effort by state attorneys general to combat what they see as a growing problem of human trafficking that forces vulnerable minors into the sex trade.
Before the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas, one of Zoeller’s colleagues, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, described the party-filled event as “one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States.”
Law enforcement in Miami, site of the 2010 Super Bowl, also had concerns that underage prostitutes were brought in from Central America to service an increased demand for commercial sex from tourists in town for the game.
Zoeller wants legislators to act before the 2012 Super Bowl. It’s scheduled to be played in Indianapolis in February — that is, if an ongoing lockout by the National Football League, over labor disputes with its players, is resolved soon.
The issue of child trafficking has been assigned to the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which holds its first meeting Thursday. The commission has also been tasked with looking at increasing penalities for other sex offenses against children.
Profiting off the commercial demand for sex isn’t a new issue, but timing is playing a role in the push for a change in the Indiana law.
Indiana Deputy Attorney General David Miller, who handles legislative issues for Zoeller’s office, said current state law makes it a crime to solicit a child for sex, but doesn’t cover the organized exploitation of children by people who profit from the sale of sex with minors.
To revise the current by early February, legislators would have to pass a bill early in the next session, which begins in January. They’d also have to make it enforceable as soon as the governor signs it.
“It would take a very coordinated effort, but I think it’s possible,” said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Danville who chairs the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, where such a bill could originate.
In addition to the issue of human trafficking of minors, legislators on the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission will also be looking at increasing penalties for other sex crimes against children.
State Sen. Randy Head, a former prosecutor from Logansport, has been working with Steuerwald on legislation that would give prosecutors more tools to go after sexual predators who threaten their young victims or use the Internet to solicit sex from minors.
Head said predators have stayed ahead of the law in the use of technology, employing social media to lure young victims and hiding behind it to protect themselves from prosecution. “It’s something we absolutely must address,” Head said.
The commission will also look at potential legislation that could expand the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children.
Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org