Activists: Sex trafficking is an Iowa issue


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Former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman said Iowans need to stop being so naïve.

Sex trafficking is an international issue that local citizens are not immune to, she said.

"Iowans don't believe that anything that horrible would happen [here]," she said. "We don't believe that people would ever take our young girls and force them into prostitution. That is the mindset."

More than 40 community members gathered to discuss the sex-trafficking of minors in Iowa and nationwide Monday night. Awareness training was presented by the Iowa-based organization Braking Traffik, which received a 2012 Iowa Women's Foundation grant to educate the Iowa community about human trafficking in the state.

Sex trafficking occurs when an individual is forced to perform sexual acts by another. Each year, 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide. The Department of Justice estimated in 2005 that there had been 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves since 2001.

In 2006, Tinsman spearheaded the passage of a law criminalizing human trafficking in Iowa.

"We all have a responsibility to identify and respond to this problem," she said at the seminar.

Advocates cited a local incident in April when Coralville, Iowa City, and University of Iowa police and Johnson County deputies charged several individuals with involvement in prostitution.

Prostitution can be under the umbrella of sex trafficking, mainly when someone is forced into the practice.

"These are women and children who are slaves to their trafficker," said Dayna Ballantyne, the executive director of the Iowa Women's Foundation. "They don't have a voice. They don't have the power or the resources to stop these unless we in the community rise up … and shine a light in the corners for the women and children in trouble."

Every case that has been prosecuted in Iowa has included female minors, said Stephanie Kraft, executive director of Braking Traffik.

"Human trafficking is a crime against humanity," Ballantyne said. "Most people, if you took them aside and said, 'Do you support slavery?' they would vehemently say, 'No, I don't support slavery.' Well, this is the same thing."

Kraft said the average age of entry into prostitution is 11 to 14 in the United States.

Sarah Bannon, the executive secretary of the University of Iowa's Students for Abolishing Slavery organization, said coming from Chicago, she once viewed Iowa as a safe place where sex trafficking couldn't occur.

"I think that's why there is a lot of skepticism," said the UI sophomore. "There is just a lot of joking around because people don't believe that it happens here."

It is quite easy to see the signs once one gets past the reluctance to believe in the issues, she said.

"Just with the makeup of the state with the big highways running through, it's easy for abducted persons to run through," she said.

The problem is that human trafficking in the United States is newly recognized and still being developing for study, Kraft said.

"One of the biggest ways to address this problem is to make sure everyone is aware of [human trafficking in Iowa] and is pushing for legislation," she said.

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