Dems: Raising awareness to stop human trafficking

February 24, 2016
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Human trafficking is defined as using force, fraud or coercion to exploit someone for sex or labor. It is now a $150 billion industry, and it’s happening here in Iowa—to kids in our schools, at our hospitals and on our highways.

 

While awareness about the issue is growing, human trafficking has only recently been recognized as a crime by many people. It’s hard to estimate the reach of human trafficking because related laws and definitions of victims are changing quickly to address the problem. For example, those engaged in forced prostitution or survival sex are now regarded as victims, rather than offenders.

 

Who’s engaged in sex trafficking? According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, sex trafficking victims are more likely to be:

  • Female (94 percent)
  • Under age 18 (54 percent)
  • U.S. citizens (75 percent)

 

Sex trafficking suspects tend to be:

  • Male (76.6 percent)
  • Between 18 and 34 (61 percent)
  • U.S. citizens (65.6 percent)

 

According to the Polaris Project, a human trafficking victim advocacy organization, the average age of entry into forced prostitution is 12 to 14 for girls and 11 to 13 for boys. Many of these kids have run away from troubled homes. The National Network for Runaway Youth reports that within the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 kids are lured into sexual exploitation, usually with the promise of shelter, food or a fictitious modeling contract.

 

SF 2095, approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Education Committee, requires mandatory child abuse reporters be trained to recognize and get help for kids affected by human trafficking. This includes those who work with children through health care, education, child care and law enforcement.

 

The advantages of including human trafficking in the state’s child abuse law include:

  • Allowing a protective response versus a punitive response.
  • Changing the perception of who is a criminal and who is a victim of a crime.
  • Allowing a trafficker to be defined as a “caretaker” so that the child can receive additional help.
  • Prohibiting a trafficking victim from being housed in a correctional or detention facility unless they have other delinquent charges.
  • Allowing a child victim of trafficking to be considered a Child In Need of Assistance, who can be taken into protective custody and receive shelter care.

 

Many organizations and government agencies are fighting human trafficking in Iowa. SF 2191, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, establishes an Office of Human Trafficking within the Department of Public Safety to oversee and effectively coordinate these efforts.

 

A coordinator will run the office, and additional staff may be hired if funding allows. The office will work with government agencies and community organizations with expertise in human trafficking prevention, victim protection and assistance, law enforcement and prosecution. The office will provide an annual report to the Legislature on Iowa’s anti-human trafficking efforts starting in 2017.

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