Monday, February 16, 2015

Human trafficking comes to Iowa

Advocates are drawing attention to the growing $32 billion/year trafficking industry and its invasion into Iowa.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The University of Iowa Human Rights Student Collective hosted a lecture on human trafficking on Thursday, given by Teresa Downing-Matibag, the executive director of the Network Against Human Trafficking and an Iowa State University sociology professor who studies the sex trade.

Internationally, human trafficking has quickly risen to an estimated $32 billion/year industry and is expanding into the United States and even into Iowa.

“U.S.-born youth can be and are being sent off all over the world because there are criminal syndicates involved in this trade and they’re here just as well as they are in countries that are less developed than ours,” Downing-Matibag said.

Downing-Matibag recounted cases in which an Iowa father from Dubuque prostituted his daughter, Iowa police were trying to find a trafficked girl as far away as Thailand, and other anecdotes.

Brittany Kimzey, the event organizer and president of the Human Rights Student Collective said that internationally, trafficking victims often wind up in forced labor, but in the United States, victims mostly become forced into prostitution.
Teresa Downing-Matibag explains how human traffickers
manipulate and control their victims.
(Iowa Peace Network/Jon Overton)

Oftentimes, trafficking doesn’t involve conventional kidnapping. Rather, perpetrators usually build trust with their young boys and girls (but mostly girls) over a couple months. Minors who suffer from low self-esteem and come from dysfunctional families are prime targets.

“This is a kid who needs to be told she’s okay and if I can fill that space in her life, she’ll start trusting me and believing me and I could be the boyfriend or dad she’s never had, I could promise her the world,” Downing-Matibag explained.

“Women will enter into what they think is a loving relationship and then, once drugs get involved, things change,” Kimzey said.

Traffickers frequently use addictive drugs to control their victims and get them to engage in sexual acts that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

One of the biggest struggles with human trafficking, Kimzey said, is that when the police discover adult victims, they’re often charged with prostitution. At times, Iowa’s county attorneys have also pushed to try 16 and 17-year-olds as adults.

“Minors who’ve been found [guilty] of prostitution have been criminalized and ... that’s a problem because it ends up giving them really bad records, it makes it hard for them to get ahead in life,” Downing-Matibag explained.

To alleviate the legal problems, the UI chapter of Amnesty International will hold an event this Thursday in Rm 1117 of the University Capitol Centre from 7 to 10 p.m. where people are invited to write letters encouraging state lawmakers and county attorneys to enact policies that prevent victims of human trafficking from being charged with prostitution.

There will also be a screening of a documentary about the fight against human trafficking, “Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth,” in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library at 6 p.m. this Wednesday. At 5:30 p.m., human rights groups will hand out information in the library before the screening.

“Trafficking victims don’t choose to be trafficked,” Kimzey said. “They get tricked, they get trapped, they get coerced. It’s violent, it’s just a really scary terrible thing and nobody wants to be in it and the only way we can keep people from getting into it is creating awareness on what it is.”

Jon Overton is the Media Editor of Iowa Peace Network and an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying Ethics & Public Policy and Sociology.

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