January 21, 2013

Human Trafficking in Iowa

First, a definition:
The act of human trafficking s the providing, buying, and selling of men, women, and children who will be exploited until they are no longer able to work, or are sold repeatedly to be violently, sexually abused.  Mobility is important, as traffickers move victims quickly away from home and/or family in order to build dependence and fear.

According to a September 2012 special report, Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery Exploiting the Vulnerable, trafficking human beings is the world’s fastest-growing organized criminal activity, generating a “market value” of $32 to $39 billion annually.  It is second only to drugs as the largest source of profit for organized crime, surpassing the sale of guns for the last 10 years.  The “average” trafficker earns $47,000 per week.

Chrysalis is proud to be serving on a Task Force with the Attorney General's Office related to human trafficking in Iowa. Through this process, we have learned a lot in a short amount of time that we wan to share.

Eighty percent of victims of human trafficking are female, 50% of victims are children; average age of targets for trafficking is 11-14 years old.  One in 3 runaway youth is approached for commercial sex within 48 hours of being on the street.

Iowa is an easy target for traffickers because of the intersection of key interstate highways connecting Minneapolis, Kansas City, Chicago, and Omaha.

Iowa was awarded a “D” grade on the Protected Innocence Challenge by SharedHope (http://sharedhope.org/PICframe2/reportcards/PIC_RC_2012_IO.pdf), in part, because our prostitution laws do not reference the human trafficking law to identify a commercially sexually-exploited minor as a victim of trafficking rather than a person soliciting money for sex.

Also, because of inadequate training and resources, law enforcement encounters are likely taking place where human trafficking is present, but it is not being recognized – more often, the charge is prostitution.  Since 2006, only 2 cases have been prosecuted under the Iowa Human Trafficking Statute.

Another problem with Iowa law is that purchasers of sex with minors must register as sex offenders only if convicted of human trafficking or solicitation of commercial sexual activity.  If a buyer is convicted under the prostitution statute, even when it involves a minor child, the buyer is not required to register as a sex offender.

These are among the concerns now being addressed by this team, which includes about 20 judicial, legal, public safety, and educational institution representatives.  In addition, Former Iowa Senator Maggie Tinsman of Davenport brings the resources of Braking Traffik, a nonprofit organization she founded to address this growing issue.

Last year, Chrysalis hosted its first Roundtable Community Conversation, and the issue of trafficking was presented by Lt. Joe Gonzalez of the Des Moines Police Department (and Chrysalis Board member) and a representative of the US District Attorney's Office.  We will continue to build public awareness and education about trafficking, as its devastating impact on girls and women increasingly comes to light.

Later this year, we plan to host a screening in the Chrysalis Office of Not My Life, a documentary produced in 2011 depicting the tragic effects of this multi-billion dollar global industry targeting girls and young children.