Council, supervisors support efforts to reduce human trafficking

Friday, January 20, 2023

LE MARS — Human trafficking is a scourge against humanity, a crime that damages thousands of lives across the country, including in northwest Iowa, and more than 27.6 million people — adults and children — around the world, including in the United States.

DeAnna Faris of the Siouxland Coalition Against Human Trafficking talked about human trafficking during a brief presentation before the Le Mars City Council on Tuesday. Faris also spoke to the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“There is trafficking in northwest Iowa, specifically human trafficking, sex trafficking and also labor trafficking,” she said. “Unfortunately, all three are very vivid and present. Unfortunately, it is something we do deal with.”

There is a facility in the area to help trafficking victims recover. Lila Mae’s House in Sioux City describes itself as a place to provide “a safe, healthy environment where adult survivors of sex trafficking can rest, heal, recover and develop life skills.”

Faris said while some clients come from the region, others are from areas as far away as California. They come to Iowa to hopefully be free and safe from their traffickers.

“It’s disturbing to think about, but the reality is, it’s here,” she said. “Our young people are very vulnerable.”

Mike Wells said Le Mars is located along a “sex trafficking byway” between Minneapolis and Denver. It’s especially busy in the fall with a large influx of hunters in the area for the South Dakota pheasant-hunting season, he said.

“This is happening in our community and as we speak,” he said.

Mayor Rob Bixenman signed a proclamation recognizing January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It’s been observed nationally since 2010.

“As a father of three teenagers, it’s a very different world than the one I grew up in,” Bixenman said. “Home was safe. You could get away from whatever you wanted to get away from. And now our kids are accessible 24/7, it seems like.”

Police Chief Kevin Vande Vegte said staff members at local hotels and motels receive annual training from the state on how to detect human trafficking. Students receive information about internet safety and human trafficking.

Deputy Sheriff Dave Gomez of the Boise County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office spoke about human trafficking at local schools recently, the chief said.

“So we’re doing things locally but we’re very excited about getting with DeAnna and maybe doing a little bit more,” Vande Vegte said.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Office to Combat Human Trafficking reports there are cases of human trafficking across the state.

“Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of youth under the age of 18 for commercial sex; the exploitation of adults for commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion; and the exploitation of any individual for compelled labor,” according to the office.

It reported that from January through October 2022, the Iowa OCHT documented 50 human trafficking tips and leads, with 32 of those received from law enforcement field encounters, the Crime Stoppers tip line, and the stophtiowa.org website. The remaining 18 were received from the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH).

The Iowa OCHT processed 435 requests for information regarding human trafficking investigative leads from January to October.

If you suspect human trafficking is occurring, call local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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