Raising awareness for human trafficking

Friday, April 21, 2017
Sister Shirley Fineran, director of Social Work Field Education at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, and Jacquie Kehoe, director of Centers Against Abuse and Sexual Assault speak during “Break the Silence,” a human trafficking lecture that was held Thursday to educate and raise awareness about human trafficking. (Photo by Joseph Hopper)

A group of around 50 people attended “Break the Silence,” a lecture by Sister Shirley Fineran on Thursday in Spencer. Fineran's lectures are noted as a way to raise awareness and visibility for human trafficking and the victims of the trafficking trade in our own local areas. Fineran shared why she is out to raise awareness for human trafficking.

"Human trafficking is modern slavery. It's an important reality that faces all U.S. communities and Iowa communities. It's important that people know about human trafficking which involves sex trafficking and labor trafficking. If we know about it, we hopefully will know more about how to watch for signs, possibly prevent it, and know what to do when we suspect that a person is possibly being trafficked," Fineran said.

Fineran shared that one of the difficulties in combating human trafficking is its shaky legal definition according to the justice system.

"The United States Department of Justice has defined it as force and coercion and control of persons performing sex or labor services where there is exploitation and commercial acts, so some value is being exchanged, so even though the department of justice has defined it, in many municipalities including Iowa, human trafficking or sex trafficking or labor trafficking is not a designated crime category. So when the police arrest someone, it's a crime but there's not a category for it, so they can't charge a person for it. ... Most of us in human trafficking areas are on a learning curve for what human trafficking is. We're all on the learning curve together," Fineran said.

Fineran explained that one of the best ways to prevent or eliminate human trafficking in the community is to become informed and aware.

"So what we want to happen is that people become so aware of what to watch for that buyers know that this is not a community for you to buy sex. We don't tolerate buying sex in the community and we don't tolerate our young people being trafficked. In order to do that, people need to know what the signs are and what to watch for," Fineran said.

Fineran shared that another preventative measure that can be taken is to be aware of social media usage.

"The biggest way that kids or adults today are trafficked is through social media. So, most kids have some form of social media they use, and they tell way too much information about themselves, so instead of pimps or traffickers strolling through the community, which they do as well, there is someone 24/7 for who puts on social media that they're lonely, don't have friends, 'nobody likes me,' 'I'm mad at my parents,' 'I wish my parents would buy me this,' so they're looking for someone that repeatedly does that, is lonely. So they go on social media and say 'I wanna be your friend, I'll buy you that,' we call that grooming, it's part of what they do to get people to work for them. They don't kidnap them and then force them to commit sex acts typically, but groom them," Fineran said.

If citizens see activity that may be suspicious, Fineran suggested that if anyone sees anything suspicious, to say something, either to the police or to the hotline for human trafficking.

"So we tell people, if you see something that doesn't look normal, (notice) the absence of normal. If you see a 12-year-old girl with a 20-something guy and he seems to be her boyfriend, that's not normal. Or a young girl with somebody who is old enough to be her father or grandfather and doesn't seem to have that familial relationship that's not normal. Especially if the child is not able to talk when they say hello, they don't have any personal items with them, if something just looks odd that's the time to call the police or call the national hotline number, 1-888-373-7888. If people call that number, that gets the page into the FBI and they call the local law enforcement," Fineran said.

Fineran shared that she has been helping to open a two-year transitional house for women 18 and over that have been sex trafficked. Called Lila Mae's House, it is slated to open in September of this year. Those interested in supporting the effort or seeking more information can call 712-899-6211 or send mail to P.O. Box 1281, Sioux City, IA 51102.

Anyone who notices activity suspected to be human trafficking can call local law enforcement or emergency services at 911, the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text "Help" or "Info" to BEFREE (233-733). Those needing help or resources in the area can also call CAASA's hotline at 1-877-362-4612 or visit caasaonline.org.

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