By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The day before Clinton’s annual Fourth of July celebration, volunteers poured red sand into sidewalk cracks along the riverfront, hoping to draw attention to the issue of human trafficking during one of the busiest times of the year.
It’s the first time the Franciscan Peace Center’s Anti-Trafficking Committee has participated in the Red Sand Project, which aims to bring labor trafficking and sex trafficking out of the metaphoric cracks and into plain sight through a conversation-starting display. As passersby walk along the sidewalks, they can read signs with statistics and risk factors of human trafficking “so they know exactly what the red sand represents,” said Lori Freudenberg, community outreach director for the Franciscan Peace Center.
As temperatures reached 85 degrees the afternoon of July 3, around 20 volunteers grabbed bags and buckets of sand (and bottles of thirst-quenching water) from the trunk of Freudenberg’s car. She was grateful to the City of Clinton for allowing the project to take place in such a high-profile area.
“One’s whole being is cracked by being someone’s slave,” she said, noting that 13 is the average age in which someone enters human trafficking. “Most of the recruiting is done online. It’s hidden. People are being tricked into thinking they’re going to have a good life. These are kids who have fallen through the cracks. They’re kids who for whatever reason are forgotten.”
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It can happen in any community and to victims of any age, race, gender or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Language barriers, fear of the traffickers and/or law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.
Freudenberg said Interstate 80 is a “hotspot” for human trafficking; last year, Polaris’ human trafficking hotline received 218 calls from victims in Iowa. “It’s happening here.”
Mary Seely, director of the Clinton Convention and Visitors Bureau, helped with the Red Sand Project alongside her daughter, Adison Mixdorf, and an intern, Rachelle Susie. All three are members of the Anti-Trafficking Committee. Mixdorf, a student at Iowa State University, said human trafficking “is a problem not a lot of people think about or know about.” Through her participation in the committee, she’s learned that traffickers target vulnerable college students, especially those who are on their own for the first time. She hopes to take that knowledge back to Iowa State and work to raise awareness.
Veronica Deevers, a member of the Anti-Trafficking Committee, is the facilitator of Achieving Maximum Potential (AMP) in Clinton and Scott counties. AMP helps vulnerable teens in the foster care system to learn life skills and receive mentorship. She said traffickers “chomp at the bit” for these individuals, who often feel lost and scared upon turning 18 and aging out of the system. She hopes the Red Sand Project will help bring more attention to the issue.
Tiffany Harris, another committee member, brought members of the youth dance team she coaches, Ebony Illusion, to assist with the project as a way to help them understand that human trafficking occurs where they live and its victims are generally groomed as children. “They don’t know,” she said, adding that it’s important for the girls to understand that “not everyone is your friend, but you do have a voice out there and people who care about you.”