Two Successful Anti-Trafficking Events Demonstrate Progress in Iowa

All of Iowa’s anti-trafficking advocates should be encouraged by two recent major events that demonstrate many more Iowans are seriously on the move to eradicate human trafficking and slavery in our state.

The first major event is the Iowa Human Trafficking Summit. This conference was held on April 18th and 19th, 2018, and attended by 400 participants from across our state. The second event was an impressive survivor service fundraising gala held on Saturday, April 21st, and attended by 540 Central Iowans who donated over $200,000 for the startup of the Pathway House for immediate rescue and The Ranch House, a survivor restoration home. Details about both events follow below.

Iowa Human Trafficking Summit

The two-day Iowa Human Trafficking Summit was held at the Prairie Meadows Event Center and sponsored by the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, and the Department of Public Safety’s Office to Combat Human Trafficking.

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The panel shown on stage spoke about a recent Iowa case which involved the investigation and prosecution of child sex trafficking. The West Des Moines sex and drug trafficker received a sentence of life in prison.

We at the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery commend these three state agency sponsors for planning this very successful conference. The response as measured by attendance was enormous, with registration having to be shut down since the maximum number of 400 participants was reached.

Of significance was the large number of law enforcement officers attending the conference. There were several breakout sessions exclusively for law enforcement and prosecutors. Some of the titles for these workshops included the following; Investigating Illicit Massage Parlors, Charging Options and Charging Strategies, Drilling Down on the Element: Legal Concepts of Coercion, the Cognitive Interview: Starting Your Case Off Right.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller noted that the theme of the summit was the need for multidisciplinary coordination across professions and within Iowa geographic regions. He noted that over the past 3 years, Iowa victim service agencies have increased their ability to identify survivors of trafficking and to provide critical services for victims in their communities. With this increased identification has come the responsibility of law enforcement to hold the perpetrators of trafficking responsible for their crimes and to prevent future trafficking in our state.

The Department of Public Safety Commissioner, Roxann Ryan, also spoke of the multidisciplinary approach and how very important it is to Iowa’s efforts to combat trafficking.

She further stated, “those attending this conference know that human trafficking is happening in Iowa, as it is happening across the world. It remains largely hidden or at least frequently unrecognized but more and more, people across Iowa are seeing the signs of trafficking and taking action to hold traffickers accountable and provide resources to the survivors. It is a long road to recovery for human trafficking survivors, and they depend on the well-coordinated response from an array of nonprofit services, along with the caring response from the legal system, law enforcement, medical services, and social support programs.”

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The Network Against Human Trafficking Board of Directors met during the summit and welcomed its newest and 18th member, Mike Tupper, Marshalltown chief of police.

The NAHT board of directors also held its monthly board meeting during the summit. The Network Board had many interested visitors and welcomed all to the meeting. The Network took advantage of the attendance by service providers and state agencies to invite them to learn more about the NAHT.

Having the board meeting during the summit allowed the Network to gain some visibility among the summit participants. The Iowa NAHT is Iowa’s first and only statewide volunteer organization devoted exclusively to ending trafficking in all its forms.

Garden Gate Ranch First Annual Gala Fundraising Event

Following in the footsteps of the Human Trafficking Summit was the first annual Gala Celebration of Garden Gate Ranch. This non-profit 501 (c)(3) faith-based Christian organization provides assistance, resources, and training for survivors of human trafficking. Their primary goal is to provide a pathway to hope, restoration, empowerment, and dignity for survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation. This nonprofit program has a part-time development director, Lauren Gildersleeve, and a very strong board of directors.

The founder and driving force behind Garden Gate Ranch is Brenda Long, who gave a very impassioned address during the fundraising dinner. As mentioned earlier, 540 attended the gala event and Garden Gate Ranch raised over $207,777!! Originally the event was planned for the Hilton Garden Inn, but as attendees poured in the event had to be moved to a larger venue and was finally held at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. This was the single most successful anti-trafficking fundraising event in Iowa history.

mike-ferjak-george-belitsos

Mike Ferjak is congratulated by Dr. George for his moving keynote address about the nature and extent of contemporary sex slavery in Iowa. Mike encouraged as many as possible to contribute to the fight to end sex trafficking in Iowa.

The keynote speaker was Mike Ferjak, a retired senior investigator for the Iowa Department of Justice and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Mike served in law enforcement for 39 years, including 19 years as an investigator. He gave an excellent overview of human trafficking in Iowa, which was followed by several testimonials and a very well put together video on trafficking in Iowa.

After this very successful event, Brenda Long shared the following, “we were all extremely blessed with how well it went, and so excited to be able to share about trafficking and Golden Gate Ranch with so many.” When I asked how she and her board accomplished this, Brenda responded, “We hired an event planner and all guests were personally invited. We started with a small group of us brainstorming who we might ask to be a table host. Once the table hosts were in place, each host then invited personal friends to join them for the evening.

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Dr. George congratulates Brenda Long for the very successful Golden Gate Ranch GALA held at the Des Moines Embassy Suites.

We intentionally didn’t advertise on our website or social media. The meal was complimentary, no ticket sales, no selling or sponsors of tables, we just trusted the Lord to move hearts to give and support what we are doing.”

Golden Gate Ranch plans to open its new facility in 2019 somewhere in central Iowa in a rural and safe location. If you’d like to learn more about this emerging program, go to their website at www.gardengateranch.com where you can also donate or give them you email to stay informed as to the opening of their new survivor service facilities.