Federal, state, local officials gather in Marion to discuss human trafficking
'Human trafficking crimes are crimes of modern day slavery'
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MARION — Christi Geisler’s time as a human trafficking victim could have ended sooner if someone had seen the signs, the Dubuque native said Monday.
“(Police) looked at me as a drug addict, not a trafficking victim,” Geisler said. “I didn’t have identification. I didn’t have an address to give them. I was in the worst neighborhoods you could think of in these big cities. I was alone.”
Drug addiction as a teen led to Geisler being trafficked around 2007 and 2008. She was rescued from that life in 2009 thanks to police officers in Arkansas who saw that something was amiss and asked “those important questions,” she said.
Geisler shared her story at the Marion Police Department Monday as part of a news conference on human trafficking. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies vowed to work together to combat human trafficking. President Barack Obama proclaimed January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in 2015.
“Human trafficking crimes are crimes of modern day slavery,” said Kevin Techau, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa. “They have no place in Iowa, no place in the United States and no place anywhere in the world.”
But, as Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty warned, those crimes do take place here in Eastern Iowa.
“I think the public really doesn’t understand how important this is,” he said. “This is something that happens in this area.”
Techau told the small crowd of citizens and law enforcement at the news conference that responding to human trafficking is different from responding to other crimes in that it requires a multiagency response.
“We need federal, state and local agencies working together,” he said.
Iowa Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Enforcement Chief David Lorenzen touted the importance of Truckers Against Trafficking, a non-profit organization started in Colorado in 2009. The group, which the DOT began partnering with about three years ago, arms truck drivers with materials and information on the signs of human trafficking.
Lorenzen said a truck driver in Virginia helped law enforcement there save a Clive, Iowa woman who had been forced into human trafficking. He had just recently been educated on human trafficking by his employer, Conway Freight.
“We know this program works,” Lorenzen said.
Teresa Davidson, president of Cedar Rapids Gives, discussed the importance of providing human trafficking survivors with resources to aid in their recovery. Her organization is in the process of changing its name to Iowa Stops Traffik and applying for a grant that will provide resources such as shelter, counseling and legal care. They are also creating an affiliation of area agencies that will contribute to the goal of aiding trafficking victims. The organization plans to open a shelter for trafficking victims in Cedar Rapids.
“We’re just all coming together,” Davidson said. “It’s a really good thing. It’s exciting.”
Hearing about all of the efforts to combat human trafficking left Geisler feeling optimistic.
“It gives me a lot of hope,” she said.