DES MOINES — An anti-human trafficking advocate in Cedar Rapids received a service award from the state governor Thursday.
Teresa Davidson, the anti-human trafficking coordinator at Mercy Medical Center and executive director of a nonprofit on the issue, was given the Outstanding Anti-Human Trafficking Service Award at the State Capitol.
“There are so many people who deserve this recognition before me, so many people working behind the scenes,” Davidson said in an interview with The Gazette this week. “For me to get this award, it’s humbling because it’s on the back of a lot of work other people do.”
Davidson is the founder and executive director of Chains Interrupted, a not-for-profit founded in 2016 to address the issue in Cedar Rapids area.
She was also named as Mercy’s anti-human trafficking coordinator this past year, a new position at the hospital that is the first of its kind in the state.
In this role, Davidson — who is also a nurse practitioner at Mercy — works to establish response protocols hospital staffers can use to help patients who may be victims or survivors of human trafficking.
Davidson said she has received 21 referrals since May, with the majority of referrals coming from other agencies or organizations that come across a victim or survivor of human trafficking.
“There’s now somebody to call, somebody to do something about it,” Davidson said. “I even got a referral from New York. There’s a child from New York who’s run away, and they know that child is in Iowa. So they reached out to me because there’s someone to reach out to.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud or coercion of a person to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
It’s difficult to track the issue, but some international organizations estimate millions of victims worldwide.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports more than 8,500 cases opened by U.S. law enforcement in 2017.
The hotline reports it took 218 calls that referred to Iowa in 2017, which led to 74 cases opened by law enforcement.
Davidson, who has been involved in advocacy for six years, said she’s seen more awareness surrounding the issue, which, in turn, has led to more efforts statewide to curb human trafficking.
“Once you hear about it, once you meet someone affected by it, it changes your whole life,” she said. “It certainly changed mine.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds also signed a proclamation declaring January as “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month” on Thursday, emphasizing the issue as a priority for her administration.
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“I want you to know how deeply committed my administration is to continue our partnership,” Reynolds said during Thursday’s event honoring Davidson. “ ... I understand the urgent need to prevent human trafficking in our state.
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