Monthly Archives: April 2015

Only regret: If we didn’t participate in the foreign study program

Garrett O’Sullivan wouldn’t have had it any other way: he studied in WMU-Cooley’s Australia and New Zealand program, became engaged and traveled with his fiancée and mom.

WMU-Cooley student Garrett O'Sullivan and fiance Lauren Boles.

Garrett O’Sullivan with fiancée Lauren Boles.

The traveling trio enjoyed Australia for two weeks before moving on to other parts of southeast Asia.

Garrett had a number of unique experiences. “Probably the most unique was having my mother, a recently retired probate judge in Michigan, come to spend the last two weeks in Australia with my fiancée and myself. And after the program ended the three of us backpacked through southeast Asia hitting places in Thailand and Cambodia. The experience during the study abroad was fantastic but being able to have my mom and my fiancée go experience a place in the world that we may never have experienced otherwise was absolutely fantastic.”

Garrett with fiancée Lauren and his mom

Garrett with fiancée Lauren and his mom

Garrett, Lauren and his mom agreed that the experience was unlike any other.  The only regret we would have had,” said Garrett,  was if we wouldn’t have participated.”

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Same-Sex Marriage: The ultimate decision of the Court will establish significant national precedent

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

The pending U.S. Supreme Court case of Deboer v. Snyder and its related cases, examining the legality and enforceability of same-sex marriage, present legal and policy issues of major importance to the nation.  Here is Western Michigan University Cooley Law Professor Gerald A. Fisher’s brief take on some of the key issues.

The cases present issues under two key clauses of the 14th Amendment: the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Arguments will address whether same-sex marriage is a “fundamental right” that triggers special protections under the Constitution.  The decision may address whether the plaintiffs or the states have the burden of proof, and the extent of that burden in terms of arguing the constitutionality of the regulations in question.  Also of equal importance, the cases have the potential of raising questions touching on the fundamental structure of our country by determining whether the individual states, or the federal government itself, have the jurisdiction to define marriage rights and privileges.

The most likely outcome in the case is a Justice Kennedy-written opinion expressing that there is no rational reason for a state to prohibit same sex-marriage. However, there is a long-shot outcome, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case, United States v. Windsor, written in 2013 by Justice Kennedy, that the definition of marriage is a matter appropriately left to the states.

WMU-Cooley Professor Gerald Fisher teaches Constitutional Law, Property, Secured Transactions, Zoning and Land Use Law, and State and Local Government Law. Professor Fisher has appeared on 21 occasions in cases presented to the Michigan Supreme Court. He was the recipient of the Roberts P. Hudson Award from the State Bar of Michigan in 1978, named a Best Lawyer in America in 2007, Recipient of the Cooley Law Review Michigan Supreme Court Distinguished Brief Award in 2001, and named a Lawyer of the Year in Michigan (one of ten) in 2001 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

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Back to Boston—This Time to Run

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, will toe the line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on Patriot’s Day, Monday, April 20, 2015, to run his first Boston Marathon. He will cross the finish line on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, just like his wife and WMU-Cooley Professor Kara Zech-Thelen has done the last three years and WMU-Cooley Director of Communications Terry Carella has done for the last 10 consecutive Boston Marathons. But this Boston, it’s his turn to talk about his journey and to make his own history.

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley's Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley’s Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, training to run his first Boston Marathon, Monday, April 20, 2015.

As I strode through an eight-and-a-half-mile morning run earlier this week, the Boston Marathon only days away, my mind wandered, reflecting on my preparations for the race.

I’ve been training for more than four months now. I’ve run over 500 miles in that time, roughly the equivalent of running from here (Lansing, Michigan) to Nashville, Tennessee. Oddly enough, when you’re training for a 26.2-mile marathon, the farthest you run is only 20 miles, and then only once. Come race day, adrenaline carries you through the final 6.2 miles—or so the theory goes.

I’m under no illusion that those last 6.2 miles won’t be painful. Indeed, the pain will likely set in by mile 17 or 18, and the thought of running eight or nine more miles at that point is downright haunting, especially when your legs and feet are basically numb. Well, numb except for the silent screaming coming from your quad muscles, which want nothing better than to revolt against your mind’s dogged commands to keep running.

Just keep moving, your mind directs. No!, your every muscle screams defiantly back.

Knowing all of that lies ahead of me on Monday, I still think I’m ready to run and finish the world’s most historic marathon for the first time.

It’ll be an emotional run. I’ve cheered my wife on from the sidelines there three times. We were there in 2013, the year it happened. Kara finished the marathon about 25 minutes before the bombs went off, and she watched with horror as smoke and debris billowed into the street a few hundred yards away from her. Although safe and out of sight another block away, I felt the concussive thud but couldn’t comprehend the booming sounds ricocheting between the buildings around me. I’m still moved to tears by thoughts of so many victim spectators, doing the same thing I was doing there that day.

I don’t know if it would have been so important to me to run Boston had I not been there that day. I’m not a fast enough marathoner to earn a time-qualifying spot in the race, so my option was to raise money for a marathon-approved charity to run the race.

That’s right—I’m raising money for charity so I can run the Boston Marathon. I picked the American Red Cross, and they picked me for their charity team, Team Red Cross 2015. It was an easy choice. I’ve volunteered for the Red Cross as a lawyer, and my wife’s great-great grandparents were among the beneficiaries of the Red Cross’s very first disaster response in 1881, after a devastating forest fire ravaged the Michigan communities around which they lived.

This idea of linking marathons and charities, runners with fundraising, has been around since the ‘80s. Since the London Marathon first sanctioned a charity and offered the Sports Aid Foundation some race entries to help with its fundraising in 1984, followed by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training here in the United States in 1988, runners have raised billions—yes, with a “b”—of dollars for thousands of charities around the globe. Runner’s World magazine wrote in 2013 of Running USA’s estimate that all U.S. road races combined raised $1.2 billion for non-profit organizations in 2012 alone, and last year’s Boston Marathon saw more than $38 million raised by its charity runners.

Amounts like these dwarf any single runner’s efforts, of course, but together we really do make a difference. My Red Cross team of 50 runners from around the country has so far raised more than $282,000 for disaster relief, emergency shelter, and medical services, and I’m humbled and grateful to my personal supporters who helped me reach my $10,000 goal.

Runners who obsess over this kind of stuff estimate that it takes about 46,000 strides to finish a marathon. That just seems like too much to tackle all at once, almost like the idea of raising $10,000 did back when I got started last fall. But whether it’s my running or my fundraising, I accomplish my goals one step at a time. And that will carry me through to the finish in Boston on Monday.

Just keep moving, my mind will say. And I will.

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Hired straight out of law school at 20 years old with my dream job

Robyn Crawford

Robyn Crawford

My name is Robyn Crawford. I am 20 years old. This Sunday I will graduate from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School with my Juris Doctor degree. Most wonder how I was able to achieve so much in a such a short amount of time. Truthfully, none of this would have been possible without the unconditional love and undying support of my parents, family, friends, and this incredible school.

It all began when a few months after beginning high school my parents decided to make the best decision of my life and enroll me in college at 14 years of age. Simultaneously, I began volunteering at a program called Youth Court. Youth Court is a criminal diversion program for juvenile first-time offenders. Fortunately, unlike most, it was through these experiences that I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to be a lawyer.

Robyn after graduating with her AA degree

Robyn after graduating with her associate’s degree

A little while later – at 16 years old – just before graduating with my associate’s degree, I spoke with a local attorney who was a Cooley Law School graduate from Michigan and a fellow volunteer at Youth Court. What he told me about WMU-Cooley made such a lasting impression in my mind that it stuck with me for nearly two years while I completed my bachelor’s degree.

The experiences I had in the Youth Court program, in addition to the research I did in my bachelor’s degree, lead me to discover my real passion in the legal field. At just 16 years old, I had my eye set on the prize. I had a dream to become an assistant state attorney with the state of Florida, specifically in the 5th Judicial Circuit where I was born and raised. This goal followed me through the next four years of my education and has remained unchanged.

Robyn at the Phi Theta Kappa Induction Ceremony

Phi Theta Kappa Induction Ceremony

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in December shortly after my 18th birthday. I had already begun the hunt for a law school. I was initially drawn to WMU-Cooley because of what I was told by the Cooley graduate nearly two years earlier. But I was even more convinced to go to WMU-Cooley because of the flexible course program and the cordial, hospitable faculty and staff. At last, I truly knew Thomas M. Cooley Law School was for me when I received a personalized thank you card, hand-written by Dionnie Wynter, the Tampa Bay campus director, thanking me for going on an impromptu tour of the school, and for considering Cooley Law School. With that, I chose not to apply anywhere else, and thankfully was accepted.

The journey to where I am today has been filled with right decisions made at the right time. Cooley is no exception. WMU-Cooley was able to keep the ball rolling for my head start in life by admitting me in the spring of 2013; well before any other law school programs began in the fall. It is only with that tremendous jump-start that I am now able to complete my degree in time for the July 2015 Florida Bar Examination.

Best of all, in my final semester as a requirement of graduation, Cooley arranged for me to work as an extern at the State Attorney’s Office in the 5th Judicial Circuit near my hometown. Through the externship, the State Attorney’s Office was able to see how well WMU-Cooley had prepared me to become a lawyer and how Cooley’s specialized electives prepared me specifically for practicing criminal law in Florida. I was asked to go on an interview just nine weeks into the externship. Two weeks later, I got the job! I am now working as a paid Certified Legal Intern at the State Attorney’s Office in the Fifth Judicial Circuit and will likely be hired on as an Assistant State Attorney upon passing the Bar Examination.

Thanks to WMU-Cooley I was able to achieve all of my academic and professional goals, well before most would even believe possible. WMU-Cooley’s practice-ready curriculum did just what it was meant to do and it did it well. Without WMU-Cooley, and their incredibly supportive faculty and staff, their outstanding professors, and their accommodating course programs, I would never be where I am today – hired straight out of law school at 20 years old with my dream job.

Read the Bay News 9 Story.

Read the July 1, 2016 ABA Journal story on Robyn Crawford called, 10 Questions: This young lawyer could put people behind bars before she could legally have a drink.

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Good Luck in the Playoffs WMU-Cooley Graduate and Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper – Hoist the Cup High!

Jon Cooper is The Most Interesting Man in Hockey. It’s true. Just do a Google search. He is also the bench boss for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. On Thursday, Coach Cooper, Lightning GM and Detroit Red Wings icon Steve Yzerman and the Bolts will face off against the Wings in Tampa for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round series. This is the Red Wings historic 24th straight playoff run.

In an alumni publication that ran during the 2011-12 year where his team won the Calder Cup championship for the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate, Cooper, a 1999 WMU-Cooley Law School graduate, points back to his time in law school where he learned his survival skills for success.

“Cooley Law School taught me survival,” said Cooper. “No one who graduates from Cooley was given a silver spoon; they worked hard. I took lessons learned at Cooley and throughout my life, and I applied them to coaching.”

“He’s such a great motivator,” Michigan State University sophomore forward Anthony Hayes, a former player of Cooper’s, told the Lansing State Journal. “Our players came to the rink every day ready to impress him. When Jon Cooper walks into a room, he has great presence.”

Cooper also attributes that presence to his time at Cooley. “My education at Cooley gave me confidence in public speaking and an ability to think on my feet,” said Cooper. “Those moot court and mock court competitions have brought out an ability that helps me daily.”

Lightning player Tyler Johnson agrees with that assessment in an 4-14-2015 story about Jon Cooper. Johnson said “Cooper uses his courtroom tactics on the bench and in video sessions. Like any good lawyer, he seeks opinions before stating his case and he chooses his words carefully when making his final argument.”

To us here at WMU-Cooley, Jon Cooper is a leader on and off the ice.

Cooper is definitely part of Bolts run for the Cup – The Tampa Tribune, May 20, 2015

Jon Cooper billboard in downtown Tampa during Cooley's 40th Anniversary celebration.

Jon Cooper billboard in downtown Tampa during Cooley’s 40th Anniversary celebration.



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If You Are Just Getting Around to Mailing Your Tax Return, You Might Want to Send it Registered or Certified Mail

Joni Larson, Professor and Director of WMU-Cooley's Graduate Tax Program

Joni Larson, WMU-Cooley Professor and Director of Graduate Tax Program

Unless you are a fiscal year taxpayer, your tax return must be filed by Wednesday, April 15th. A return is “filed” only when it is actually received by the IRS. If you dropped your return in the mail last week or even earlier, the IRS probably already has received it and it is considered filed. If you are getting ready to mail it, the IRS might not receive it before Wednesday.

This is where the mailbox rule comes in. If the return is mailed on or before April 15th and received by the IRS shortly thereafter, it is considered timely filed. If the return shows up and the IRS keeps the envelope, there shouldn’t be any issues. But, if the return gets lost and never gets to the IRS or the IRS receives the return but throws out the envelope, you will be in the position of having to prove that it was mailed by April 15th. In the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan, outside of the envelope itself, the only evidence a taxpayer is permitted to use to establish the date of mailing is certified or registered mail information. In Stocker v. United States, 705 F.3d 225 (6th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, the taxpayers filed their claim for refund (to which the mailbox rule also applies) on the last permissible day. The IRS received the claim, but did not keep the envelope. Because it arrived several weeks late, the IRS claimed it was not timely filed. With the envelope gone, the Sixth Circuit held that the only admissible evidence as to the mailing date was certified or registered mail information. Because the taxpayers had neither, the claim for refund was deemed untimely and, therefore, denied. Anyone living in Michigan who has not already filed his return would be wise to mail it by certified or registered mail.

If you don’t think your return will be ready by April 15th, you can request an extension by filing Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. This form can be downloaded from the IRS website, The extension request must be filed on or before April 15th. With the extension, you will have an addition 6 months to file your return. No explanation needs to be given to get the extension. The same mailbox rule that applies to filing returns applies to filing an extension request, so it is best to send the Form 4868 by registered or certified mail.

While an extension gives you more time to file your tax return, it does not give you more time to pay the tax. If any amount is due as of April 15th and not paid, late payment penalties will be applied. Form 4868 requires you to estimate the amount of tax owed and, to avoid imposition of penalties, it is in your interest to make any estimated payment at the time you file the extension request.

Professor Joni Larson teaches the Partnership Taxation, Income Taxation, and Tax Research and Argument courses in the graduate Tax (LL.M.) program. She teaches the Taxation, Wills, Estates and Trusts, and Business Organizations courses in the J.D. program.

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Even the Wall Street Journal Wants to Know About the Resurgence in Downtown Lansing

If you know Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernaro at all, you know he can never hide his excitement and pride in downtown Lansing. But others are catching the fever as well. Even the Wall Street Journal called about doing a story on the resurgence of downtown Lansing.

The question to him was, “What’s going on with Lansing?” According to Mayor Bernero, Lansing’s resurgence happened because of a team of people who said, “We can.”

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero shares his vision of downtown Lansing.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero shares his vision of downtown Lansing.

Lansing’s resurgence started, according to Bernero, with the opening of  the ballpark for the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team 20 years ago. “This was one of the absolute key lynch pins to the resurgence of Lansing,” said Bernero. “And it happened because people said we can! Because people had the imagination, the guts, and determination to say we can make it happen in Lansing.”

“Something is definitely happening in Lansing,” stated Bernero. “It goes to show you what you can do with collaboration and partnership.”

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom DIckson celebrates the Grand Re-Opening of Cooley Law School Stadium at a Ribbon-Cutting on opening day.

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom DIckson celebrates the Grand Re-Opening of Cooley Law School Stadium at a Ribbon-Cutting on opening day.

Lansing Lugnuts Chief Executive Officer Tom Dickson, with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) Chief Executive Officer Bob Trezise, talks to Lansing supporters about the new four-story apartment building construction overseeing the ballpark, dubbed The Outfield, scheduled for completion by opening day in 2016.

Lugnuts celebrate reopening of Cooley Law School Stadium with a gala ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, April 9, 2014.

Read Lansing State Journal article 20 years later, Lugnuts, stadium a downtown home run.

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Forums Held on Heroin Addiction Generate Intense Interest

Personal tragedy combined with legal knowledge can make for a powerful combination when educating the public about some of society’s more troubling ills. Such is the case with bringing to light a growing national problem with drug addiction, specifically heroin and other opioids.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau speaking to the media before the event.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau speaking to the media before the event.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau knows this well. Recently she spearheaded a program titled, “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, and the Law,”  with presentations held at both the Lansing and Auburn Hills campuses. It’s an interest founded in personal experience – a young man for whom Rousseau served as a guardian while he was in high school died at age 19 after a battle with addiction to heroin and other drugs.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau

Rousseau saw a need to highlight the growing crisis of heroin use among young people and explore ways to improve their odds of survival.

“We have an epidemic with respect to heroin and opioids in this nation,” said Rousseau. “We need to take action to change that. We need to demand that lawmakers recognize addiction as a disease, and ensure that treatment is available.”

Silence Equals Death panel of speakers

Silence Equals Death panel of speakers

The program was set up in a panel format, with various experts weighing in on the practical factors affecting drug addiction issues. Panelists discussed what those who work with people addicted to drugs should know concerning addiction and the best treatment options; what legislation has been passed to assist families affected by drug abuse, in particular, prescription drug misuse; and what tools first responders should have to save the lives of those who have overdosed on heroin and other drugs.

The programs generated a great deal of interest and interaction from attendees as the subject hit home for many.

Panelists from WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, & the Law” symposium, (front row, left to right) Erica Clute-Cubbin, Lauren Rousseau and Hon. Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, (back row, left to right) Andre Johnson and Dr. Mark Menestrina.

Panelists from WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, & the Law” symposium, (front row, left to right) Erica Clute-Cubbin, Lauren Rousseau and Hon. Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, (back row, left to right) Andre Johnson and Dr. Mark Menestrina.

“Many participants stayed after the programs to talk with me, the panelists, and each other,” Rousseau said. “People told me that they were extremely grateful to WMU-Cooley for organizing the event. Some said they struggled at certain points to hold back tears due to their own experiences with addiction. I did not expect this reaction, and it made me realize how hungry people are for the information we provided.”


Watch the entire program


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Triumph Over Adversity: Richard Bernstein Shares His Story of Success

If Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein ever tires of his position on the state’s highest court, he could command an astoundingly successful career as a motivational speaker. It’s not just Bernstein’s triumphs over adversity that he’s accomplished in his 40 years — blind since he was born Nov. 9, 1974 and catastrophically injured in a cyclist-pedestrian accident in 2012 are two of his more notable challenges — but the absolute passion and energy with which he greets life and shares his ideas with others, that make him so remarkable.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein speaks at WMU-Cooley Lansing

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein speaks at WMU-Cooley Lansing

Justice Richard Bernstein speaking at WMU-Cooley's Auburn Hills campus

Justice Richard Bernstein speaking at WMU-Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus

Bernstein recently visited the Lansing and Auburn Hills, Michigan, campuses of WMU-Cooley Law School to share his thoughts with students, faculty, and staff on triumphing over adversity. As the most recently elected justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, and the first blind justice to ever serve on the court, Bernstein regaled packed houses with  tales of his campaign for the state’s highest court, learning his way around his new job, and career legal battles and victories he’s accumulated during his years of practicing law.

Whether it’s in the legal arena or personally, Bernstein doesn’t just cope with challenges, he confronts them head on with humor, faith, and perseverance. Among his career victories, he’s justifiably proud of the case where his victory established access guidelines now used by commercial facilities across the country. In the more personal realm, he was determined not to be beaten by injury after a speeding bicyclist crashed into him at 35 mph, breaking his pelvis and hip and knocking out a few teeth.

Justice Bernstein speaks to the Jewish Law Students Society at WMU-Cooley Auburn Hills

Justice Bernstein speaks to the Jewish Law Students Society at WMU-Cooley Auburn Hills

The 10 weeks Bernstein spent in the hospital following the accident in New York’s Central Park might have sent many a person into a tailspin. Not Bernstein. Instead, the experience inspired him to leap back into another love of his, long-distance running and sign up for his 18th marathon in New York City.

“The pain was going to be so intense that my goal was just to finish, ” Bernstein said. “It was the idea of adapting to your new body, fighting pain, challenging pain, but most importantly, never letting the pain get the better of you,” said Bernstein. “Every one of us has an internal struggle that exists within our own souls, our own spirits, and our own bodies. You come to find that when it gets to be the most severe, the most intense, you come to realize that that’s where you tend to find your peace.”

Watch the entire presentation:

Watch the Q&A session:

Event articles:

Macomb Daily News article

Morning Sun News

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Human Trafficking and the Darker Side of Major Sports Events

WMU-Cooley Professor Stevie Swanson

As the NCAA Final Four begins this weekend in Indianapolis, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Stevie Swanson, who teaches Slavery and Human Trafficking and is a frequent author and human trafficking victim supporter, discusses the problem of sex trafficking during large multi-day sporting events. She also talks about how Indiana law deals with the issue and points out that, “Indiana was ranked 30th in the nation in the number of calls/texts/emails to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Hotline in 2014.

Human trafficking is a global epidemic. It is modern day slavery. Worldwide, between 20 and 27 million people are currently enslaved. It is a $32 billion/year industry, second only to drug trafficking.

Human trafficking is present in all 50 states here in the United States. It exists in the form of both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Today we are going to focus on sex trafficking. There is a common misconception that all prostitutes are engaging voluntarily in commercial sex acts. This is simply untrue. In fact, under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, children under age 18 engaged in commercial sex acts are all victims because they are legally incapable of consenting to commercial sex. Experts have stated that nine out of every 10 prostitutes are engaging in the sex trade involuntarily.

Large sporting events, conventions, festivals, and concerts draw mass amounts of people to a city. These are people looking for recreation and celebration. Unfortunately the “party pack” mentality of some of these individuals can include the purchase and consumption of not only drugs and alcohol, but also commercial sex acts. A 2014 University of Louisville study indicated that online advertisements for sex-trafficked girls tripled during March Madness last year.

Some jurisdictions have started training those individuals that they feel are likely to come into contact with trafficking victims to help identify them. For example, flight attendants, cosmetologists, and bus drivers have been trained in some states. Anyone and everyone can help eradicate trafficking by reporting suspicious activities or persons to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

Who is trafficked? Anyone can be. All races, ethnic groups, religions, and social strata can potentially be trafficked. Vulnerable and marginalized groups are trafficked most often however. Some examples of those at risk of being trafficked are: runaways, children in the foster care system, and those children who have been abused physically or sexually at home.

How can trafficking victims be identified? The following have been identified as warning signs of potential trafficking: children traveling with an adult who is not their parent, individuals being controlled or guided by others, people who are not allowed to speak for themselves, individuals not in possession of their own identification or travel documents, persons who are dressed in a revealing manner loitering near hotels who are not guests at the hotel themselves, those who do not get up or move around trains or airplanes during transit, and those with visible signs of physical abuse.

The NCAA Final Four is in Indianapolis this year. How do Indiana laws address trafficking and how does Indiana rank relative to other states regarding trafficking? Indiana was ranked 30th in the nation in the number of calls, texts, and e-mails to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Hotline in 2014. Only 1 percent of the calls received by the NHRTC Hotline were from potential trafficking situations in Indiana.

The Polaris Project ranks each state in the nation regarding 10 categories of laws critical to combating trafficking and places them in a four-tiered system, with the first tier being the level that offers the most assistance to combating trafficking. Indiana is ranked in the first tier for 2014. Some positive aspects of Indiana’s human trafficking laws are that they require human trafficking training for law enforcement and offer a civil cause of action for trafficking victims that has the potential to include punitive damages.

One of the negative aspects of Indiana’s trafficking laws is that they do not offer expunction of criminal records for victims of trafficking for those crimes committed while being trafficked. For example, people could be convicted of prostitution while being sold for commercial sex acts against their will, escape to freedom, and still be saddled with a criminal record for a prostitution offense which will impede their ability to successfully reintegrate into society.

Another problem with the Indiana human trafficking laws is that they have a potential loophole for young “romeo pimps.” A well-known phenomenon in the sex trade industry is the “romeo pimp.” This type of trafficker woos the victim into a false sense of security and false dating relationship. The traffickers identify what the victims are missing in their lives and provide it, whether the need is food, shelter, attention, affection, or even drugs. Often victims have previously experimented with drugs. The “romeo pimp” often becomes the drug supplier. Generally under Indiana statute, it is not a defense to prosecution that a child consented to engage in prostitution. The exception states that if the potential trafficker is not more than four years older than the victim, and under 21 years of age, was in a dating relationship with the victim, and did not commit the offense while using or threatening to use deadly force, did not facilitate the crime while armed with a deadly weapon, or while furnishing drugs or controlled substances to an unknowing victim, and did not have a position of authority over the victim, then the victim’s consent is a defense to the trafficking charge. In the situation where “romeo pimps” are close in age to the victims, and have controlled them through their drug addiction, rather than through violence or threats of violence, the Indiana statute may not have enough teeth to convict a trafficker.

What can we do to help eradicate trafficking? Everyone can get more informed about trafficking and share their knowledge. Society can try to curb the demand for sex trafficking by targeting the “johns” or purchasers of commercial sex. We can contact the human trafficking hotline and report suspicious activity. We can educate our children and mentor at-risk youth.

Why is it so important not to ignore this problem? The average age of entry into the sex trade in the United States is 11 to 13 for boys and 12 to 14 for girls. The average lifespan of a victim of sex trafficking is seven years from the beginning of their trafficking. Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of being sex-trafficked in the United States every year. If the children are our future, it seems to me that the future is not very bright unless we ALL acknowledge that there is a problem and contribute to its solution. No kids want to be prostitutes when they grow up. Let’s have more respect for humanity than to ignore this problem.

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