Addressing human trafficking in eastern Iowa

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 5:47 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -Human trafficking happens right here in Eastern Iowa. Just last week the U.S. Marshalls recovered seven missing Iowa minors through what they called Operation Homecoming. Four human trafficking investigations are continuing, tied to that operation.

And in February, two employees at the Eastern Iowa Airport were recognized for stopping a young girl from traveling towards what was believed to be a human trafficking situation.

According to the non-profit Chains Interrupted, children in foster care and teenagers who live on the streets are especially at risk.

“This is happening here,” the Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids told KCRG-TV9.

She works directly with victims who have been trafficked in some way.

“There is sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” she told us.

“Within the first year I had 58 local referrals for human trafficking and the second year ,71 referrals,” she added.

Leaders say people are recruited everywhere from the internet to schools, with runaways especially being targeted.

“Sadly traffickers are waiting for our children out on the streets, they’re waiting for them at bus stops, at train stops, anywhere that kids go that runaway and they approach them with that fraud. With the fake job or you know, you’re so beautiful you could be a model, come with me,” the Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator explained.

The Linn County Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services office brings in someone to talk to minors about this topic every month.

“The kids that my staff and I work with are some of the most vulnerable. They’re part of the juvenile justice system. They really lack a social safety net,” Dawn Schott told us, Director of Linn County Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services.

“It’s just really important to educate kids on the situation and how easy it is to be roped in or drawn into human trafficking without even knowing it,” Schott added.

There are signs the community can be aware of, signaling something might be very wrong.

“If you have a child that has a friend that suddenly has expensive items, they’re having a change in their language, their dress, their behavior,” the Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator described.

“Or if you’re driving down the interstate you stop at a gas station and you see someone that maybe looks like somebody’s controlling them, they don’t give you eye contact,” she added.

You call always call the National Human Trafficking Hotline to assist if you notice concerns. That number is 1-888-373-7888.

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