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INDIANAPOLIS — Convenience store employees across the state are being trained to identify and assist individuals forced to engage in sex work or other unpaid employment.

Already clerks at more than 500 Indiana convenience stores have viewed a human trafficking training video, created by the national awareness group In Our Backyard, and been provided information about how to recognize and who to contact if they encounter an individual being controlled by another person.

Scott Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association trade group, said his organization hopes to make the training available to every employee in every store throughout the state.

"Our stores are conveniently located to meet the needs of friends, family and neighbors," Imus said. "But, unfortunately, they are convenient to criminals who exploit other human beings."

To combat that, in addition to employee training, Imus said convenience stores with public restrooms will post stickers inside female and male bathroom stalls with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (888-373-7888), so trafficked individuals can call for help from one of the few places where they might be left alone with their phones.

"They see the sticker and it gives them a message of hope," said Juliana Williams, In Our Backyard program director. "At that moment, there's a hope for a way out of the life that they previously did not think there was a way out of."

Imus and Williams said convenience stores are an ideal place to reach out to human trafficking victims because people of all kinds make purchases at convenience stores more often than grocery stores or restaurants.

"This initiative will save lives," Williams said.

In 2017, there were 93 human trafficking cases reported to the national hotline from Indiana, but Williams said the actual number of victims likely was much greater.

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