Special Agent: Sex Trafficking a Problem in Iowa
By Mark Carlson, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - It’s called sex trafficking, and chances are — you’ve heard of it.
“It’s modern day slavery,” said DCI Special Agent Robert Larsen. “Victims are forced or defrauded into some kind of labor or sexual exploitation.”
But the thing that comes as a shock to most people — it’s happening all across Iowa. Special Agent Larsen is an expert in online sex trafficking, and as one of less than a dozen members of the state's Cyber Crime Unit, he devotes much of his time to fighting this problem.
“Since (Craigslist) got censored it’s not like things on the Internet just went away,” he said. “They just moved or went to other sites or avenues.”
Larsen said online prostitution and sex trafficking run very close parallels. Victims are often children, but don’t have to be. Many times victims are grouped together, while their “pimp” sells them out with online ads.
“By looking at a posting you can tell a lot. Are they (victim) wearing a wig? Are they in a hotel room? Did someone else take the picture?” Many of the victims Larsen encounters don’t realize they are being taken for “sex slaves,” because the pimps do a good job of making them (the victims) feel like what they are doing is right.
“They sell them by convincing them they’ll get opportunities to act, dance, model,” he said.
Those “opportunities” have been presented to young people in Iowa City.
“A group from out of state was here trying to recruit young girls,” said Johnson County Sergeant Kevin Kinney. “They wanted to take them around and prostitute them in other places.”
Kinney is a detective who also serves on the human trafficking work group for the southern district of Iowa. He said the out-of-state group was discovered about a year ago after a sting led them to it.
“Since they were out of state, we turned them over to that states agency,” he said.
“Backpage is the new Craigslist.”-Sergeant Kevin Kinney
Since Craigslist.com censored its “adult services” section in 2010, there has still been a push by “pimps” and prostitutes to find other outlets. Both Sergeant Kinney said Special Agent Larsen said Backpage.com appears to be that outlet.
We asked Larsen if he could find an example of a potential “sex slave” in our area. It took him little time to pull up a woman in Iowa City going by the name of “Delicious.” In her posting she claimed to be 22-years-old. Her ad was listed under the “escort” section of Backpage.
We decided to call “Delicious” to find out what she offered, and for how much. Before we identified who we were she told us: “I do not get explicit in conversations (but for $350/hour) I guarantee when we meet it will be a great time.”
After we Identified ourselves she told us: “Yes it’s legal, I do orientate massages, and dance.”
Both Larsen and Kinney agree that the problem of human sex trafficking is bigger than law enforcement alone can handle.
“They’re (pimps) preying on our children,” said Kinney. “Some of these kids are disadvantaged kids to begin with, but we as law enforcement need to be able to come at this and stop it.”
Unfortunately, state funding to fight this problem just isn’t there, and officials end up being more reactive than proactive, but Larsen said there are ways around that.
“I think you’re going to see law enforcement look to form strong partnerships with prosecutors, medical professionals, victims rights advocates, and community organizations,” he said. “That will facilitate awareness.”
Both Larsen and Kinney said they are currently working on, and will continue to work on, sting operations to combat online sex trafficking.
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