The following is a press release from the Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery (contact Dr. George Belitsos, Chair, at 515-290-1909 for more information):
Governor Kim Reynolds, Lt. Governor Adam Gregg, Dr. George Belitsos, Board Chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery, and Stephen O’Meara, President of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking will use the administration’s weekly press conference to bring attention to the terrible crime of human trafficking and to announce a new statewide initiative to fight the growing crime of sex trafficking taking place in Iowa’s hotels and motels.
Hotels and motels are primary locations for sex trafficking both across the nation and here in Iowa. The Iowa Network estimates that at least 50% of sex trafficking takes place in hospitality venues, often unbeknownst to managers and staff. Traffickers bring in women, many are minors, to hotels and motels especially during major events. These events are not the root cause of sex trafficking. The root causes are greed, and a subculture that accepts treating people, especially women and children, as sex objects that can be bought and sold. Poverty, child abuse and neglect, drug abuse and dependency, and desperation lead to maintaining a pool of vulnerable victims
According to Dr. Belitsos, the network has partnered with a Nebraska Coalition to launch the Iowa Hotel/Motel Training Project. The Nebraska Coalition has developed a training of trainers program and curriculum that Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery will adopt. On September 13th, three trainers from Nebraska came to Des Moines to conduct the first training of 30 Iowa volunteers who will be dispatched to Central Iowa hotels and motels. The cost of the trainers and the educational materials are being covered by three private donors through the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. The Nebraska trainers’ next training of trainers will take place on September 25th in Cedar Rapids. Other training of trainers in four other regions of Iowa will be announced at the September 19t press conference.
“We depend on law enforcement and prosecutors to hold traffickers accountable” said Reynolds, “But we also count on schools, social service agencies, the hospitality industry and general public to take actions to recognize and prevent human trafficking, and protect vulnerable Iowans. This September 19th press conference will ensure that we do our part at the state level to draw attention to this heinous crime, and to support non-government initiated efforts, such as the hotel/motel project.”
Governor Reynolds added, “I am pleased to be able to serve as an honorary board member for the Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery and to have worked with Teens Against Human Trafficking in the past. We’ve made progress in our anti-trafficking efforts in Iowa but we still have more to do. Regardless of how human trafficking begins, it is important for hotel and motel employees and the general public to recognize the signs of trafficking and to report any suspicious activity.”
“When the network began 10 years ago, human trafficking was not recognized as a problem in Iowa. Thankfully, that has now changed and the response by Iowa communities and government agencies has greatly improved,” said Dr Belitsos. “Both the Network and the Coalition are very grateful and encouraged by the support we have seen from Governor Reynolds and the Lieutenant Governor who will put the spotlight on this horrible crime at their September 19th press conference. Their support will help us to successfully launch the Hotel/Motel Training Project.”
Following the press conference, Governor Reynolds will also present a recognition plaque to the city of Johnston Iowa for becoming the first city in the state to adopt a massage therapy business ordinance. Johnston law enforcement has already closed 2 illegitimate massage businesses and prevented a third from even opening. The Iowa Network is encouraging other cities and towns in Iowa to adopt similar massage business ordinances in order to root out prostitution and trafficking and thereby restore the credibility of the massage therapy industry.