2020 Outstanding Iowa Anti-Trafficking Service Awards

The Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery recently presented five 2020 Outstanding Iowa Anti-Trafficking Awards. The presentations took place last month 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 Maggie Tinsman, Co-Chair of the Network Legislative Advocacy Committee.

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 contribution to Iowa’s fight against human trafficking.


Heather Brown – Is a heroic trafficking survivor who has become a spokesperson for victims. She has made a remarkable recovery and turned her “scars into stars.” Heather is now employed full-time and has her own housing and is a licensed foster parent. Heather is one of three Iowa trafficking victims featured in the one-hour documentary Gridshock. She speaks publicly about how teens are groomed and recruited by traffickers. She also shares the traffickers’ control tactics in an effort to divert teens from being tricked and lured by cunning and greedy traffickers.


Senator Charles Grassley – Could not join us on January 16, but was well represented by his grandson, Pat Grassley, who is the newly elected Iowa House Speaker. Senator Grassley has advocated and sponsored anti-trafficking public policy congressional legislation starting way back in 2003 with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and later, the 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, and most recently, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2018. The NAHT thanks Senator Grassley for his outstanding public policy leadership.


Brenda Long – Founder and driving force behind the non-profit Garden Gate Ranch, providing safe housing for trafficking victims and their children. She is a passionate advocate for survivors. She has also organized four annual statewide “Eyes Wide Open” anti-trafficking conferences. Her conference last fall had well over 200 participants. Brenda has inspired hundreds of central Iowans to join the fight against trafficking. Her last gala fundraising event drew an astonishing 800 participants and raised just over $400,000.


Jim Townsend – A Des Moines business leader who has been an advocate and voice against the human trafficking industry. Upon learning of an illicit massage business operating near his Urbandale business headquarters, Jim singlehandedly spearheaded efforts to pass a massage business ordinance that led to the closing of illicit businesses operating under the guise of massage therapy. His story was on the front page of the Des Moines Register and it resulted in several other city councils taking up massage business ordinances.


Mark “Rocky” Vest – Founder and driving force behind Break The Cycle (BTC), an annual 200-mile bike ride to raise funds to break the cycle of sex trafficking. It is an incredible athletic feat to ride 200 miles in one day. Since the first BTC 200 ride in 2011, over $750,000 has been raised and donated to non-profit prevention projects, rescue services, and survivor restoration programs. Rocky and his board and riders come from all walks of life and have gained the reputation of being among Iowa’s greatest anti-trafficking advocates.

This award was created by the Network Board in 2017 and past awardees are as follows:

2017 Awardees:

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

2018 Awardees:

Brittaney Sowder – Survivor and spokesperson for Iowa survivors
Kellie Markey – Founder of Dorothy’s House in Des Moines
Greg Heartsill – State Representatives and Erin’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

2019 Awardees:

Teresa Davidson – Founder and President of Chains Interrupted; First in Iowa hospital-based human trafficking trainer
Joy Fopma – Founder and driving force behind Wings of Refuge
Motor Vehicle Enforcement Chief David Lorenzen – Instrumental in launching Iowa Truckers Against Trafficking
Vanessa McNeal – Filmmaker of 1-hour human trafficking documentary Gridshock
Stephen Patrick O’Meara – Former assistant US attorney who has handled many human trafficking cases

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 .