By Christine Werling-Witkoske
Women representing many different areas in Eastern Iowa gathered in Tipton recently to answer a call to restore dignity to victims and learn more about the issue of human trafficking from former state legislator Maggie Tinsman.
Approximately 50 participants watched a video story of a young victim of trafficking who looked and sounded like so many of our daughters, granddaughters or sisters. Her story highlighted the heavy facts that tell the story of modern day slavery:
l Trafficking is the second-largest criminal industry in the world after drug trade.
l It is the recruiting, transporting and harboring of people by use of threat, force or deception for the purpose of exploitation;
l It includes contract slavery, forced labor and sexual trafficking;
l As many as 27 million are currently in forced labor, bonded labor or forced prostitution.
As Iowans, we often think we are sheltered from such oppressive abuse and want to consider how far we’ve come since the days of our country’s slave trade. In fact, Iowa is not immune and today’s slaves worldwide outnumber those at the height of the slave trade. Runaways, homeless youth, undocumented workers, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are all at risk to falling prey to traffickers and their manipulations.
In Iowa, with our network of highways and our belief that “that kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” we are at risk to allow trafficking right under our noses if we aren’t careful. Recent reports told of prostitution stings that uncovered trafficking operations in Eastern Iowa and young runaways have been rescued several times in the last four years.
The video presentation opened eyes. We learned that it’s happening here and we need to look beneath the surface. As concerned community members, we need to be asking more questions and taking action if we think we’ve seen something. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a toll-free number to call to report suspected trafficking: (888) 3737-888.
As people of faith, we are called to deplore such forms of exploitation, call for enforcement of current laws, push for stronger protections and educate ourselves and our community. A small group met again in Marion to continue the conversation and brainstorm concrete local actions that we can take to, as the Psalmist says, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Christine Werling-Witkoske of Coralville is Vice President, United Methodist Women Executive Board, East Central District. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org