Keep human trafficking out of Iowa

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 24 2012 | 12:01 am - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 5:09 pm in

Gazette Editorial Board

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Violence, coercion and manipulation might be the tools of a human trafficker’s trade, but there’s one other condition that helps modern-day slavery thrive here in Iowa, across the United States and throughout the world: Silence.

It can be difficult to imagine women and girls, usually, trapped and exploited for labor or for sex in our relatively safe communities.

Unfortunately, as a recent Coralville investigation seems to indicate, Iowa is not immune.

That investigation resulted in the arrests of more than a dozen people allegedly involved in a local prostitution business. One woman, Melody McCullom, 21, of Waterloo, also was charged with human trafficking involving a juvenile.

It’s only the fourth time police have arrested someone under the 2006 Iowa law prohibiting trafficking — the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud or coercion. But officials say they think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Officials have no way of knowing for certain how many adults and children are trafficked from, to or through Eastern Iowa.

Nationwide, federal officials investigated more than 2,500 suspected incidents of human trafficking from January 2008 to June 2010, according to a 2011 report. About 8 in 10 of the suspected incidents were cases of sex trafficking.

But because of the isolation and overwhelming control traffickers exert over their victims, it is commonly believed that represents only a fraction of the actual problem.

Investigating these complex cases takes significant resources. Terrified and isolated, victims often are reluctant to seek help on their own even if an opportunity arises. They may not even realize what is being done to them is a crime.

Sex traffickers deny victims medical treatment or basic necessities such as food or shelter. Victims are often drugged or beaten, moved from town to town, state to state or trafficker to trafficker.

Traffickers use computer technology to market their victims and rely on the secrecy of johns complicit in the crime — all of which makes it more difficult for law enforcement or others to identify victims.

The result: It takes a significant investment of resources to investigate and prosecute even a single trafficker.

Some might question whether trafficking investigations warrant such investment. Yes, it is.

Human trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprises. It’s a vile, often brutal crime that violates our most fundamental freedoms.

Helping victims and stopping the spread of trafficking in Iowa should be a high priority.

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