Guest Columnist

A survivor's story of human trafficking

A brochure from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office lists information about the Safe at Home program. The program, which began in 2016, helps survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking and other crimes keep their home addresses confidential. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A brochure from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office lists information about the Safe at Home program. The program, which began in 2016, helps survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking and other crimes keep their home addresses confidential. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

January is both Human Trafficking and Stalking Awareness Month. Trafficking and stalking are problems that continue to plague our society. Estimates show there are more than 40 million victims of human trafficking around the world, most of whom are women and children. It’s happening in Iowa too. Fortunately, there are programs available to help Iowans who are survivors of this atrocious criminal activity.

My office administers the Safe at Home address confidentiality program. It provides survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, trafficking and stalking with a substitute address to use on all their records, making it harder for their abuser to find them.

We have more than 500 participants in Safe at Home enrolled statewide. Several of them have experienced human trafficking, stalking or both. One of the survivors agreed to share her heartbreaking story. Her identity, along with those of all Safe at Home participants, will remain anonymous:

“My abuser broke into my home through the sliding glass door. He held me hostage, where I was violated and assaulted. He stated that he would slowly torture my dogs in front of me and then slowly torture me if I didn’t listen to him.

“My dignity and identity were sold to various criminals and I was traded to another criminal organization. Even after relocating, I was found in two different states because of public records and the police reports that included my address and phone number. I attempted a protective order, but the prosecutor’s office told me it would be a terrible idea because the main criminal could send members of his cartel to find me.

“When I had the chance to escape from the horror, I fled to Iowa. I found agencies to assist me with my urgent and life-threatening situation. My experience has resulted in significant neurological injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and multiple concussion syndrome, which I continue to live with today.

“An agency helped me enroll in Safe at Home to protect me from the criminals threatening to kill me if I went to law enforcement. I believe that I am finally Safe at Home thanks to this program and I am so grateful it is available to survivors like me.”

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If you or someone you know is looking for a way out of an abusive situation, Safe at Home can help. Visit SafeatHome.Iowa.gov or call 515-725-7233 for more information.

• Paul Pate is Iowa’s secretary of state.

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