Governor’s Proclamation Signing a Springboard for Building Public Awareness

Public Awareness Springboard

The Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery has long advocated for Iowans to learn that this evil crime is an everyday occurrence in our own state. Declaring January 2019 as “Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month” served as a springboard for building public awareness.

On Thursday, January 17th Governor Kim Reynolds signed the 2019 Proclamation. The event took place in the rotunda of the State Capitol building and was attended by 263 advocates and allies. We also had good coverage by the print and TV media. Below is a photo of the Governor and I holding the proclamation surrounded by the 20 committed members of the Iowa NAHT Board of Directors.

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I was privileged to kick off the event with the following address:

Good Morning! My name is George Belitsos and I am the board chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery.

I want to personally thank all of you here today for standing with us in the fight to eradicate the evil of human trafficking in Iowa. Human trafficking is a modern form of the oldest and most barbaric type of human exploitation and enslavement.

On behalf of the Network and all our allies here today, I would like to thank Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Governor Greg for recognizing the growing problem of human trafficking by issuing today’s proclamation. The Governor’s proclamation signing will be followed by a progress report from Teens Against Human Trafficking and finally the recognition of several heroic Iowans with Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards.

The Network was Iowa’s first, and remains the only, statewide non-profit volunteer organization devoted exclusively to ending trafficking in all its forms. We do this through education, awareness, advocacy, public policy and collaboration.

When we began more than 13 years ago, most Iowans thought that trafficking took place only in third world countries, and, if domestic trafficking occurred in the USA, it was rare and could only be seen in large metropolitan cities.

The undeniable truth is that both sex and labor trafficking are sending a dark and ugly cloud over Iowa just as in every other state in our country. It is in Iowa’s small towns and our cities. The sex trafficking we see involves primarily teens and young women. Iowa’s labor trafficking victims are both male and female of all ages. Because Iowa has two major US interstate highways running through it, north to south and east to west, victims are transported to and from our state to every corner of the nation.

Currently, the Network has several statewide projects that give Iowans the opportunity to work together to end both the sex and labor trafficking plaguing our communities.

  • Hotel/motel employee education projects;
  • Asking Iowa’s city councils to adopt ordinances to root out illicit massage businesses that are a front for prostitution;
  • Today we launch a third statewide project to distribute and post “The Iowa Human Trafficking Rescue Sticker”. If you as an individual or your regional coalition would like to distribute stickers especially in women’s restrooms in gas stations, Walmart, clinics, liquor stores, transport centers, there is a sign up sheet at the information table.

No one system, regional coalition, state agency, law enforcement department, prosecutor, or non-profit is capable of stopping trafficking alone. In order to successfully combat this epidemic, we all must collaborate and partner.

Our governor has become not only a valued partner but also a high profile anti-trafficking advocate and collaborator. Gov. Reynolds has been a great help to getting out our important message and the undeniable truth that both sex and labor trafficking is in our state. She knows that as we stand here talking about it, victims are suffering unimaginable cruelties. As a mother and grandmother (10 grandkids) she demonstrates empathy. For the past 3 years, Gov. Reynolds has also served as our one and only honorary Network Board member. Last year, we presented one of the Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards to Governor Reynolds.

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My opening was followed by an address by a representative of Teens Against Human Trafficking (TAHT) Alexandria Coffman.

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Address by Teens Against Human Trafficking:

Hello, my name is Andrea Coffman and I am honored to speak today on behalf of Teens
Against Human Trafficking.

The mission of Teens Against Human Trafficking is to empower youth to be lifelong ambassadors in the fight against human trafficking. Since receiving state grant funding in July 2016 the program has educated over 27,000 public school students across 140 school districts. The program has educated over 17,000 adults, including professionals, parents, and community members, spanning 49 of Iowa’s 99 counties. To date the TAHT program has referred over 600 victims to services; some of these being victims of human trafficking, some of them being victims of other crimes, like sextortion (blackmailing with nude photos), some admitted to being groomed by strangers over the internet, or other abuse and exploitation happening in their lives. Over 200 have been reported to DHS for abuse investigation.

Teens Against Human Trafficking high school teams continue to make an impact as they meet regularly and put on events in their schools and communities to raise awareness. Here are a few accomplishments from some of the teams:

I am a member of the Ames High School Teens Against Trafficking Team. I am one of 20 active members. Our Ames High School continues its tradition of strong student leaders and we carry out monthly team events to educate our student body.

Kennedy High School put on a day-long conference for other high schools in the Cedar Rapids area to educate and inspire other students to get involved. They had three other high schools represented and did a phenomenal job empowering students and motivating them to start teams at their high schools.

Ankeny High School puts on an annual bake sale to raise funds for local survivor rescue and service organizations and with each baked item they include a statistic about human trafficking. They also put out a monthly educational video to the entire student body.

ADM (Adel-DeSoto-Minburn) High School had a booth at one of their community’s large celebrations to distribute anti-trafficking information and spread the word to other students and community members.

Fort Dodge High School has done the Red Sand Project multiple times, filling the cracks of their sidewalks with red sand to signify all the victims who are falling through the cracks, as well as hosting documentary showings and tables at local community events with information to distribute and fair trade products to sell.

These are just a few examples of what teenagers across Iowa are doing to raise awareness and educate their fellow students, parents and community members.

Presentation by Governor Reynolds

Governor Kim Reynolds next signed the proclamation declaring January as “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month.” The Governor has been actively involved in this issue for several years and serves as an honorary board member for the Iowa Network Against Trafficking and Slavery. The Network is very grateful for the support we have seen from Gov. Reynolds. She continually places a spotlight on this horrible crime. The Governor stated:

Today, I am asking all Iowans to learn more about trafficking, become aware that it is happening in Iowa, and to report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something.

The harsh reality is dozens of victims are being trafficked in Iowa every day and most traffickers go undetected and unreported. That’s why we must join together to prevent human trafficking and end this unspeakable crime in our state, nation, and around the world,

stated Gov. Reynolds.

The Governor went on to say:

Having more eyes and ears available in every community can help government officials, educators, social workers, hotel staff, and law enforcement officers respond more effectively. We must let human trafficking victims know that we’re fighting for their freedom and a better way of life.

proclamation against human trafficking

Presentation of Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards

Note to subscribers – presentation of these awards will be covered in a future blog post. Read about the contribution by these heroic individuals.