April 2, 2012

Human Trafficking the Focus at First Chrysalis Roundtable Event

3/30/12: This morning, Chrysalis held its first Community Roundtable from 7:30-9 am, on the topic of human trafficking.  We were happy to have 34 attendees who heard an informal presentation from Lieutenant Joe Gonzalez of the Des Moines Police Department, and Vivian Van Vleet of the US District Attorney’s Office.

In addition to sharing information on the situation in Iowa and state resources, they provided us comprehensive information on the definition, identification, and investigation of trafficking.  We learned about the various types of trafficking, and how complex and deep the networks can be.

Under United States law, once a person has been held in servitude, a person’s status as a trafficking victim supersedes all other smuggling or immigration questions and affords them legal protections and social services.

Here are characteristics of trafficking:
1.        Is not voluntary; one cannot consent to being trafficked or enslaved
2.       Entails forced exploitation of a person for labor or services
3.       Need not entail the physical movement of a person
4.      Can occur domestically, where citizens are held captive in their own country
5.       Is a crime against the right of each person to be free from involuntary servitude

There is a difference between trafficking and smuggling – smuggling is always international in nature, ends after the border crossing, and typically involves a fee.  Smuggling is a crime against a nation’s sovereignty.

I’ve attached the handout Chrysalis prepared for today’s event, which includes information on various types of trafficking.  Although I thought I understood the motives and types of trafficking, I learned about another type today that is occurring in rural Iowa.  Widowers – traveling to Mexico to meet and bring a young woman back to Iowa “to marry.”  Once they are here, the man does not marry (so the woman does not gain legal status through marriage) and uses the woman for sex and domestic services.  Many women are isolated by their captor, who keeps them without access to phone or internet.

A psychologist from one of our grantee partners, Youth Emergency Shelter and Services (YESS), reported that the shelter regularly sees young women who have run away from a trafficking situation (often as young as 11 or 12 years old) and have been prostituted.  The psychologist noted that although the girl may want to leave the captive situation, she is often bonded to her captor either by love, pregnancy, or threats of violence.

A major piece of our work at Chrysalis is to keep our community informed about what is happening with girls and women here in Central Iowa, and to educate others on how to recognize, respond, and report on traumas such as trafficking.  It’s about engaging our community in the being an important part of the solution.