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Human trafficking happens every day in Iowa. Our quaint little agricultural state might not seem like the perfect place to buy and sell people for sex, but we have the perfect formula for people who seek to profit off the suffering of others. Our two major interstates intersect the state's center, making travel in and out quick and efficient. Iowans want to think the best of others and may not recognize the warning signs. But those signs are there and you should trust your instincts. Take the time to RECOGNIZE them AND REPORT what you see. You have the power to make a difference.

Recognizing Trafficking Victims

There is no single profile for a victim. Recognizing trafficking victims can be hard, even though many are hidden in plain sight. Trafficking happens in Iowa schools, restaurants, neighborhoods, gas stations, event spaces, and more. A common perception of human trafficking is a victim being kidnapped and held hostage. While there are cases like this, it is far from the norm. There is no movement - or kidnapping - required for it to be human trafficking. Victims can still be living in their own home, attending school, and/or participating in activities in their community.

Victims aren't usually tied up physically, but often held hostage psychologically. Traffickers are adept at identifying potential victims and exploiting their vulnerabilities. They can be individuals or part of a larger criminal network, all with the same intent to exploit people for profit. Just as anyone can be a victim, anyone can be a trafficker. Traffickers can be a parent, relative, boyfriend, girlfriend, or someone else. American culture grooms us to "get used to" the idea of trafficking. The media, pornography, video games, and other hyper-sexualized images and text that we see every day make us numb to the horrors of sexual exploitation.

Source: Iowa Victim's Service Call Center website

When something's just not right

According to data from the Polaris Project, a non-profit national organization seeking to end human trafficking, 10,615 victim records give insight into the systems and tactics that traffickers use to conduct their business. Traffickers frequently prey on an individual's vulnerabilities, and the data spotlight factors that may have placed these victims at risk. Top risk factors for human trafficking include recent migration/relocation, substance use, runaway/homeless youth, mental health concern, and involvement in the child welfare system.

Top recruitment tactics include:

  • a trafficker acting as a romantic partner and possibly even proposing marriage.
  • a family member who influences/coerces another family member into a trafficking situation.
  • someone offering to help with money, food or a job.

It's hard for many to believe, but a large portion of the vulnerable people who find themselves in a human trafficking situation don't see themselves as being in danger or as victims. Many of the situations these people come out of are not much better, and sometimes worse, than being controlled and sold for sex. For some, the pimp provides food, shelter, and protection, even at the expense of beatings and sexual mistreatment.

Victims of human trafficking in the midst of their situation often don't see themselves as victims or recognize that they are in danger. If you have the chance to speak to someone who you think might need assistance, here are a few questions you can ask. If any of the answers cause you to be suspicious of human trafficking, please contact local law enforcement with any details you may be able to share.

  • Where is home for you?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer/boss?
  • What hours and days do you work?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Are you in debt to your employer/boss?
  • How much of your money do you keep?
  • How much does your boss keep?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?
  • Where do you perform your work?