2019 Outstanding Iowa Anti-Trafficking Service Awards
The Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery recently presented five 2019 Outstanding Iowa Anti-Trafficking Awards. The presentations took place at the Rotunda of the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa. I was honored to stand at the podium to read the tribute to each outstanding honoree. We partnered with Governor Kim Reynolds and Lt. Governor Greg who are pictured with each of the five honorees along with the incoming chair of the Network board, Liz Cox.
If you know an Iowan who has made a significant contribution to Iowa’s fight to end trafficking, please nominate them by completing the form you will find here.
This award was created by the Network Board in 2017 and past awardees are as follows:
- Maggie Tinsman – Author of first Human Trafficking legislation, founder of Braking Traffik
- Kevin Kinney – Author of three Human Trafficking legislative bills + investigator of trafficking
- Chris Branstad – Advocate for Teens Against Human Trafficking and AMP
- Cathy O’Keeffe – Braking Traffik CEO + FBI human trafficking service awardee
- Brad Fox – School principal who uncovered a major drug and sex trafficking ring in eastern Iowa
- Christi Geisler – Survivor and spokesperson for Iowa survivors
- Brittaney Sowder – Survivor and spokesperson for Iowa survivors
- Kellie Markey – Founder of Dovothys House in Des Moines
- Greg Heartsill – State Representatives and Eran’s Law advocate
- Mike Ferjak – Lead Iowa Human Trafficking Enforcement and Prosecution Task Force
- Teens Against Human Trafficking – 15 TAHT clubs reaching 90 schools
- Kim Reynolds – Governor and NAHT honorary board member and advocate
Here are the 2019 Awardees:
Each of this year’s awardees are so very well deserving. As you read about each of these unsung heroes, I am sure you will agree that they have made very significant contributions to Iowa’s fight against human trafficking.
Teresa Davidson has devoted her life to fighting trafficking not only here in Iowa but also Latin America. Teresa is a true public health professional with ARNP, MSN and MA behind her name. She is the founder and leader of Chains Interrupted, a non-profit organization that is providing professional services to survivors and a full range of prevention and intervention services. Although based in Cedar Rapids, she has built a coalition of anti-trafficking advocates in Iowa City and Waterloo. Teresa has conducted many training sessions throughout Iowa. She organized and led a very successful conference, “Human Trafficking: Not in Our Town.” Four hundred attended this very engaging full day conference in Cedar Rapids.
Teresa has also done ground breaking and courageous work in Guatemala to fight human trafficking. Since 2004, the Davidsons have been doing medical ministry in Guatemala through World Missions Plus. This ministry has evolved over the last several years into work in the field of anti-human trafficking. Teresa, along with her husband Jay and daughter, have made many trips to Guatemala.
Teresa was asked to speak at a pastor’s conference in October that several hundred pastors from around Guatemala attended. Because of gaining trust and her ability to engage local support, Teresa was able to begin three human trafficking projects.
Teresa teamed up with an organization called the “Protect Me Project,” currently working to fight trafficking in six Central and South American countries.
Teresa was recently named Mercy Medical Center’s Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator, a new role that Mercy says is the first hospital-based position of it’s kind in Iowa, and one of the few in the nation. She has been conducting human trafficking awareness and intervention training in clinics and hospitals throughout Iowa and once again making a huge and profound impact. Teresa Davidson is saving lives.
Five years ago Joy convinced two local movie theaters to show a trafficking documentary. After viewing the documentary, 12 hearts were stirred to join the anti trafficking fight. Joy lead this group of 12 to ask the question, “What can we, a group of small town Iowans, do to fight human trafficking? The next year, Joy, along with others, prayed and researched the needs of survivors. At the time there were only 629 beds in the United States specifically designed to serve survivors of sex trafficking.
The vision was established. Wings for Refuge soon opened as a long term restoration home specifically designed for survivors of sexual exploitation. The next steps were many and included networking, writing policies and procedures, receiving 501c(3) documentation, finding a home, hiring staff, securing funding, training staff and volunteers, and more. Through trial and error, successes and failures, Wings of Refuge is now firmly established as a model in the state of Iowa for restorative care.
But Joy’s vision hasn’t ended. As Wing’s of Refuge’s Development Director, Joy actively pursues the next phase of growth to reach and serve more survivors. Her current vision includes the establishment of a transitional living home as a second step to independence for women graduating from Wings of Refuge’s restoration home.
Joy is also a member of the Network Against Human Trafficking board of directors. Two years ago, she had the foresight to bring together all of Iowa’s direct service survivor care workers to form the Collaborative Provider Network. She leads these quarterly three hour meetings that have been attended by as many 16 different agencies. One of the strategic goals for this group is to develop a set of best practices for services to survivors.
Motor Vehicle Enforcement Chief David Lorenzen
Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Chief, David Lorenzen, has helped to organize and train commercial drivers, motor carriers and others in the industry to fight human trafficking. David was promoted to MVE Chief in 2006. He was instrumental in launching the Iowa Model in conjunction with Truckers Against Trafficking which became the model for the rest of the nation and is currently deployed in 41 states. He has helped to empower and mobilize truckers on the critical role they can play in fighting one of the most lucrative and destructive crimes in the nation and globally.
He is serving as president of Iowa Peace Officers Association, serves on the National Board of Directors of Truckers Against Trafficking as well as the Office of Drug Control Policy, Iowa Homeland Security Advisory Council, and Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Advisory Council. This past October David was appointed to the US Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking.
Just this last year he was instrumental in starting Bus Drivers on the Lookout which follows the same model as TAT. Last fall he also collaborated with the Network to add a new DOT website featuring an interactive human trafficking Iowa service map. Tap any city or county and it identifies local survivor resources.
Thanks to the Chief, last September the Iowa Department of Education announced a new required human trafficking awareness training for all 9,000 of Iowa’s school bus drivers. Iowa is now the nation’s first state to train all of its school bus drivers.
Vanessa McNeal has turned a spotlight on and sparked discussion about the sex trafficking industry in Iowa through a new documentary called “Gridshock”. She raised over $45,000 in a 60 day campaign to produce the film.
After graduating from UNI in 2017 with her Master’s degree, she founded her business, McNeal Media, with the goal of creating social change through story-telling. She is now an award-winning film director and national speaker, with much of her work focusing on sexual violence. Last year, Vanessa Directed “Gridshock”, a feature-length documentary that investigates the sex trafficking demand in Iowa.
Gridshock addresses the johns/buyers of sex trafficking who fuel the demand for the industry. The film features survivors, an FBI victim specialist, a U.S attorney, local law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, and a recovering sex addict. This riveting documentary will challenge everything you thought you knew about sex trafficking. What is hidden will come to light.
“Gridshock” will premiere on Tuesday April 2nd, 2019, at the Civic Center in Des Moines and tickets are on sale now at the Civic Center website.
Stephen Patrick O’Meara
As an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Stephen was the lead prosecutor for the federal Omaha Child Exploitation Task Force for five years, handling many human trafficking cases – including one very significant case involving Des Moines traffickers. He served for about 18 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Des Moines, then 5 years in Council Bluffs, all following two years as an Assistant US Attorney in Omaha-Lincoln, Nebraska. He has also served as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General, and as a county attorney in Iowa. After serving as an Assistant US Attorney, and prior to retirement, Stephen was a founder and past coordinator for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office of the Multi-disciplinary Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force, and the author of the Nebraska strategic plan against human trafficking.
He recently retired from the Coalition on Human Trafficking (Omaha) and also the board of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery. He played a lead role in setting up a two-state collaboration effort between the Coalition on Human Trafficking and the Iowa Network to create the hotel-motel training project across Iowa. He wrote the 35 page training manual and power point. He has conducted literally 100’s of speaking/training on human trafficking in Nebraska and in Iowa.