Three years ago, Iowa lawmakers banned “human trafficking” in the state. Since then, only two people have been charged with the crime – both stemming from a case in Crawford County.
The 2006 law also created a Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes Susie Cook of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. She believes human trafficking is a bigger problem in Iowa than most people realize.
“It’s not very explicit or ‘on the surface’ – it’s something you have to look for, ask the right questions and spot it,” Cook said. “Our concern is that there is more labor trafficking going on in the state than is being uncovered.”
The Crawford County case involved two teenage runaways from Nebraska that were recruited to engage in prositution and dance in strip clubs. Cook says that type of activity in Iowa is more ‘underground.’
She says cities like Atlanta have a bigger prostitution problem, so it’s easier for law enforcement to find victims of human trafficking. Cook is hoping to further expose the problem of human trafficking in Iowa by leading a training session on the subject this Saturday in Des Moines.
The training is designed primarily for social service or health care providers, but Cook says everyone should be aware of and report potential cases of human trafficking.
“For example, you see somebody working in your neighbor’s house and that person never leaves the house or talks to anyone, or maybe it’s a young person that’s not going to school,” Cook explained. “There are certainly things that just seem like funny business and you can look at it and just say, ‘that seems a bit odd to me.'”
Cook says there are also some key questions people can ask potential human trafficking victims. She suggests asking if the individual is making money and keeping all of that money or if they’re free to go out and have friends. Cook says many victims are shuffled from place to place and are threatened with violence if they try to escape.
The Human Trafficking in Iowa training session is scheduled for 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa office in Des Moines, located at 1168 6th Avenue.