By The Gazette Editorial Board
Kidnapped, traded and sold. Forced to have sex for money. Drugged and beaten into compliance — it’s not some grisly movie plot, but the real-life experiences of too many young Iowa teens.
That’s why local law enforcement agencies are right to keep the heat on would-be human traffickers by devoting precious resources to coordinating and executing prostitution stings.
This appropriate use of public safety dollars also helps call attention to the growing problem of sex trafficking of minors in and from Iowa.
When most people think of human trafficking, they think of an international network which finds its victims in struggling third-world countries.
But too often, American children are sold into prostitution by domestic human traffickers — a brutal, highly profitable criminal enterprise masquerading as harmless cases of victimless vice.
And far from being immune, our rural state — with its expectation of safety and easy interstate highway access to major metropolitan areas — can hold particular appeal for traffickers.
Local kids are being victimized, as Johnson County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Kinney noted at a recent panel discussion on trafficking at Coe College. Two area prostitution stings have resulted in trafficking charges this year, alone.
Earlier this year, a Coralville woman was accused of trafficking her 16-year-old sister. This month in Iowa City, a brother and sister were charged with trafficking three 14- and 16-year-old girls from Iowa City to Chicago.
Kinney says he’s never worked a sting in recent memory that hasn’t involved the trafficking of minors or adults forced or manipulated into prostitution.
Recently, Gazette Reporter Vanessa Miller spoke with one such victim, who recounted her experience: Forced into prostitution at age 15; kidnapped and taken to Chicago, where her picture was posted on Craigslist. She was fed drugs and was witness to violence beyond what most of us ever will experience, the woman told Miller. She feared for her life.
It was only because an undercover officer posing as a customer rescued the girl, now 20, that she was able to escape.
Her story, though horrific, is not unique. It’s shared in broad strokes by untold numbers of trafficking victims each day.
Despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, there still are too many uninformed people who will argue that prostitution always is a harmless arrangement made by consenting adults, and that police should turn a blind eye to the crime.
They’re wrong. Trafficking does happen here. And until it’s stopped, law enforcement must be vigilant in pursuing traffickers who would prey upon Iowa kids.
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