Guest Columnist

Band together to fight human trafficking in Iowa

George Belitsos, chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, said he is looking to take the network in a new direction in the future. Photo Courtesy of George Belitsos
George Belitsos, chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, said he is looking to take the network in a new direction in the future. Photo Courtesy of George Belitsos

The United Nations designated July 30 as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to raise awareness of the devastating issue and to promote the protection of people’s basic human rights. Trafficking is modern day slavery, and this heinous crime is growing not only globally, but right here in Iowa as well.

Sex and labor trafficking is a thriving criminal industry. Less than 1 percent of traffickers are ever brought to justice. Only a small fraction of victims ever receive support services.

We each need to educate ourselves about human trafficking in our state and even in our own community by becoming aware of the signs of trafficking and the recruitment methods of traffickers. We can also report suspected trafficking to the national human trafficking hotline, (888) 373-7888, or our statewide Iowa trafficking crisis line, (800) 770-1650. To learn more about the red flags of trafficking and how you can help to end this heinous crime in all its forms, you can turn to the website of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery, www.iowanaht.org, or it’s Facebook page.

Iowa is doing a better job than in the past at holding these evil perpetrators accountable. In the first six months of 2019, nine Iowa traffickers were convicted and sentenced to prison. In the month of May alone five more Iowa traffickers were arrested and are currently being prosecuted.

However, we are not doing a good job of funding either prevention or surviver service programs. In fact, there is no dedicated funding from the Legislature specifically for anti-trafficking community-based programs. Federal VOCA victim service funding is funneled through the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, but has been significantly cut as of October 1. This has resulted in the elimination of a grant for the statewide Teens Against Human Trafficking program. Four full-time school-based specialists have lost their jobs. All other existing programs have been significantly cut.

We should be reaching out to victims by loving them and doing all we can to restore their lives. We should be raising awareness in schools and communities in order to better recognize the dangers of trafficking and exploitation. Instead, Iowa is failing to fund these programs and the federal government is cutting back funding for education, intervention, and direct service programs.

This July 30 gives Iowans an opportunity to band together and build momentum to defeat human trafficking.

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• George Belitsos of Ames is board chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery

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