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Traces of slavery are in Des Moines

Column by Kevin Protzmann

Kevin ProtzmannSlavery did not die in the past. Neither is it an anomaly found only in the developing world.

It happens here, and it happens to Americans.

You are guaranteed to find it in urban jungles like New York City, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Most of these modern-day slaves are girls and young women, born right here in the land of the free, and forced into sexual servitude by predators.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this problem is only found far away from our community. I-35 and I-80 are the arteries of commerce for our state, and they also carry with them the virus of slavery.

The most common victims are women and girls of color from impoverished backgrounds.

Consider these sobering statistics: The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that between January 2012 and June 2013, phone calls and tip-offs from community members throughout Iowa revealed 30 serious cases of human trafficking in our state.

Nearly half of these cases involved American citizens, and 17 of them involved minors. Of the most severe cases in 2012, almost all of them involved sex trafficking.

These phone calls came from larger cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as well as smaller communities like Dyersville and Clear Lake.

The greatest challenge we face today is whether or not we are willing to recognize this problem for what it really is.

We call them prostitutes, but that word does not encompass the many factors that bring so many children into this system of modern-day slavery.

Countless girls, many of them before reaching their teenage years, look for some semblance of structure that neither their family nor their community can provide. Pimps swoop in with the false promise of protection and shelter, and the relationship quickly spirals into physical abuse and sexual exploitation they cannot willingly escape.

We turn our backs on the children who fall through the cracks, and many of them never get out until they wind up in a prison cell or in a morgue.

We are fortunate that the state of Iowa has begun to take steps in the right direction to combat human trafficking.

Our state legislature recently passed a bill updating the laws on prostitution to reflect the reality that many women and girls in the industry are victims, not criminals.

Not only have the penalties for pimping increased, but county attorneys will be empowered to assist, rather than prosecute, minors forced into prostitution.

We are on the right track, and the legislature’s efforts should be recognized and applauded.

There is, however, more work to be done outside of the statehouse.

Each of us can be a watchdog to stop this crime in our state, and spreading awareness at the grassroots level is always the first step in creating change.

It’s time to come together as a state, as a community, and leave slavery in the past where it belongs.

If you are interested in learning more about Human Trafficking: this coming Thursday, April 3, the Des Moines Social Club will host the kick-off event at 6  p.m. for Give a Damn Des Moines, an organization that connects, educates and activates our community. The featured topic will be “Not in our state” The truth on human trafficking in Iowa with local experts and leaders in the fight against Human Trafficking.

Protzmann is a senior history and politics double major and can be reached at kevin.protzmann@drake.edu


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