Human trafficking, “the business of stealing freedom for profit” is a multibillion-dollar criminal industry that traps an estimated 25 million people worldwide, according to Polaris, an organization that describes itself as a leader in eradicating modern slavery. We have to open our eyes to see that human trafficking happens everywhere, including in our Iowa communities. We need to have eyes wide open in order to see victims hidden in plain sight and prevent more suffering.
A voluminous 2017 report “Understanding Human Trafficking in Iowa” identifies the challenges and misconceptions that keep human trafficking victims and their traffickers under the radar.
“Most survivors had never heard the term ‘human trafficking’ nor had they been educated about what it entailed prior to their victimization,” the report found in interviews with 16 survivors.
We need awareness campaigns in our schools, parishes and homes to open our eyes to the threat of human trafficking. As a survivor of human trafficking told a Lunch and Learn audience in Clinton last week, “Anyone can be at risk if they can be coerced or manipulated.”
Cases of child and adult human trafficking survivors often go misidentified because first responders lack awareness or resources to make the distinction between human trafficking and other crimes. According to the report, “adult survivors felt that law enforcement knew how to make contact with human trafficking victims but it was more a matter of recognizing whether the person was trapped in their given situation.”
Victims’ wariness of law enforcement compounds the problem. Our state must commit to providing resources to ensure that our first responders, and all Iowans, recognize human trafficking.
National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics for Iowa document 102 human trafficking cases reported to the hotline and 287 contacts in 2018. Cases may involve more than one survivor of human trafficking. Contacts include phone calls, texts, web chats, web forms and emails made to the hotline.
These statistics likely represent a fraction of actual human trafficking activity in Iowa, according to Polaris.
Where do we begin?
• Contact Iowa legislators to support a bill to require hotels/motels that receive state business to provide their employees with training to recognize and report signs of human trafficking. Today, Jan. 16, is Day on the Hill for Human Trafficking Awareness. Representatives of several organizations in the Diocese of Davenport’s geographical reach plan to attend. Join the advocacy effort by phone, email, postcard or letter to state representatives and senators to support a trafficking awareness bill.
The vast majority of sex trafficking occurs in motels and hotels, says Ann Mohr of Attacking Trafficking, a Quad-City-based faith group. “Survivors we’ve talked to in the area say it most definitely happens here,” in hotels and motels of all kinds, adds Mohr, a member of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. Sex trafficking occurs in other places as well. Training hotel/motel staff to prevent human trafficking “gives traffickers one less place where they can run their businesses.”
• Attend Lunch and Learn presentations on human trafficking at noon on Jan. 17, 24, 31 and Feb. 7 at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce. Call (563) 242-7611 to register. Additional event details appear elsewhere in this week’s Catholic Messenger.
• Participate in Attacking Trafficking’s Fifth Annual Prayer Service to End Human Trafficking, 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 3510 W. Central Park Road, Davenport.
• Visit Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s website for excellent information about human trafficking and resources to help prevent it (https://tinyurl.com/tf6xh74).
• Check out the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery Anti-Trafficking Resources Directory at iowanaht.org/resources/#II.
• Visit Polaris at www.polarisproject.org to get a global view on human trafficking.
• Join an anti-human trafficking group. Attacking Trafficking meets monthly at diocesan headquarters in Davenport. Contact Ann Mohr at (563) 570-1481 for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next meeting is Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. All are welcome.
The Franciscan Peace Center’s Anti-Trafficking Committee meets the second Tuesday of each month at The Canticle in Clinton at 9 a.m. Call (563) 242-7611 for information.
Newton Says No to Human Trafficking meets the third Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newton. Email email@example.com for more information.
• Go to a screening of “Blind Eyes Opened,” a Christian-based movie on human trafficking on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Davenport53 18+ IMAX. Do an internet search to find possible screenings in your community.
• If you suspect someone has been trafficked or you are a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text to BeFree – 233733.
Pope Francis calls human trafficking a crime against humanity. We must open our eyes to this crime and work to prevent it.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor