Around one dozen Muscatine area residents spent their lunch hour on Friday, January 27 at the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach office listening to a presentation on human trafficking. Friday’s “lunch and learn” featured organization was the Family Resources’ Braking Trafik Program.
The Braking Traffik Program merged with Family Resources in April 2016. The combination of the two groups allows for “comprehensive direct service to survivors.” Services include medical advocacy, legislative advocacy, legal advocacy, and school and educational support for survivors and their families.
Family Resources Outreach Advocate Kelly Saul presented information on human trafficking in Iowa, both labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
Labor trafficking can involve domestic servitude such as nanny or housekeeping services, agriculture workers, factory workers, bonded workers, traveling sales crews, workers at ethnic restaurants, and workers at massage or nail salons. Saul explained that “any person being made to provide labor against their will” could qualify as a victim of labor trafficking.
Providing labor against the worker’s will can include workers who are not given the same rights as other workers, who are not allowed sick time, receive no overtime pay, or who are paid less than their peers.
Traffickers exploit the workers by denying rights through force, fraud, or coercion.
Sex trafficking involves any person who is compelled to work in the sex industry against their will. Saul explained, “Anything of value that is traded for sex constitutes a sale.” She went on to say that items of value could include a ride, money, food, or even a shower or clothing.
If the person involved is under 18 years old, law enforcement does not need proof of coercion. However, if the person involved is an adult, proof of coercion may be needed to qualify the exchange as a sex trafficking crime.
Saul expressed the importance of not classifying one type of trafficking as more damaging than the other. She also pointed out that the two can be tied together, and a victim may be experiencing both.
Attendees watched the short film “Any Kid, Anywhere,” which showed the stories of three Iowa women who were victims of different types of sex trafficking. Saul made sure the audience was aware that the women featured in the video, all white females, were not a complete representation of what human trafficking looks like, but rather were the volunteers willing to be filmed.
The average sex trafficking victim is 12-14 years of age. A 2013 study revealed that one out of three runaway children were approached within 48 hours and offered drugs or food in exchange for sex. Out of those children, 75% fell victim to DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking).
The Family Resources Braking Traffick Program is working to educate community members on the reality of human trafficking in Iowa. The program works to unite members of the law enforcement community, schools, service providers, businesses, ethnic and civic organizations, and more. The goal of a coordinated response will encourage victims and survivors to come forward.
Saul said, “We want the victim, the survivor to see there is no wrong door to knock on.” She went on to explain that a community that is aware of the situation, and knows what to look for, is a community that can offer support to those in need.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In recognition of the importance of the issue, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation earlier in the month declaring January 9 as Iowa Human Trafficking Awareness day.
Large events like the Super Bowl or concerts can lead to an increase in crimes, as traffickers take advantage of the crowds. However, the issue is relevant throughout the year.
Family Resources intends to hold more community meetings in the future to spread awareness.
For more information, email [email protected], visit facebook.com/brakingtraffik, or call (563) 468-2383.
The 24-hour regional free crisis line for Family Resources is (866) 921-3354.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is (888) 373-7888 or text BeFree to 233733.