Blinded by greed and lust traffickers trample human dignity
“Human trafficking couldn’t happen in small South Dakota towns,” was the first notion dispelled by speakers at the Human Trafficking Awareness Conference in Rapid City.
The March 24 gathering was sponsored by the Diocesan Social Justice Commission under the direction of the Office of Family Life Ministries, Catholic Social Services, and the Newman Centers in Spearfish and Rapid City.
In his opening remarks, Bishop Robert Gruss said, “Pope Francis attaches enormous importance to the millions of men, women and children who are trafficked and enslaved.” In Pope Francis’ 2015 World Day of Peace message he called for a mobilization effort as big as the phenomena itself to defeat it. The pope said human trafficking, “is an atrocious scourge on the body of Christ.”
Bishop Gruss added, “While certain factors make some populations exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking … anyone can be a victim. There is no segment of the human population that is immune to this issue.” He explained it is a low risk and highly lucrative enterprise speculated to gross $150 billion a year. He concluded his remarks with a prayer for the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita who was enslaved as a child, bought and sold, and treated brutally. (See boxed prayer.)
David Natvig, the director of the Division of Criminal Investigations for the Attorney General for the State of S.D., was the first expert speaker. He brought with him several statistics about the problems.
“Worldwide there are 25 million people enslaved and another 15 million in forced marriages,” said Natvig. He explained trafficking does not require movement. “You can be trafficked in your home,” he said referring to cases where people are exploited for sex by people they know.
He used a power point presentation that listed human trafficking statistics for sex at 71 percent, for labor 15 percent, for combined sex and labor 4 percent, and the remainder for unspecified reasons. He said the tactics used by traffickers include job offers, selling family members or passing as a benefactor.
“We try to prosecute as much as possible in the Federal Courts because federal laws require a minimum sentence,” said Natvig.
Kevin Koliner is the Assistant U.S. Attorney in S.D. One of the first cases he prosecuted concerned labor trafficking in Oacoma, near Chamberlain. “People in town said, ‘There is a guy over at the hotel who has 12 wives and some odd stuff going on.’” It turned out women were being used for hotel and fast food laborers.
Koliner cited the working definition of trafficking as “compelling someone to work or engage in a commercial sex act or using a minor to engage in a commercial sex act.” Coercion can be receiving anything of value: money, drugs, free rent, beer or a tank of gas. For juvenile ages 17-years-old and under state law does not require the prosecution to show coercion.
It is a federal case if there is any interstate commerce — using products not manufactured in S.D., interstate highways, or even the internet. In the past 20 years federal laws have been updated from Civil War statutes to reflect modern day slavery. Nationally there have been 14 life sentences handed down for sex trafficking and eight of those were in S.D.
Koliner said there have been 50 cases prosecuted in S.D. “This happens everywhere, what makes S.D. different is we have dedicated (state and federal) investigating agents, U.S. Attorneys and State Attorney Generals who have made this a priority. It means the best and brightest get put on these cases.
“We have five of the 10 poorest counties in the U.S. About 50 percent of the victims I have worked with are enrolled (Native American) tribal members in those counties. It’s a national embarrassment. In many ways it is a crime of poverty, addiction and prior sexual abuse that needs to be talked about in relationship to those communities.”
Getting witnesses is difficult for prosecutors. He said, “We have victims who are 15 or 16-year-old girls who are embarrassed to talk about details. These are usually people who have not had good experiences with law enforcement and are hesitant to report to us.”
Becky Rasmussen is a public speaker, social advocate and a Protestant minister. She helped establish Call to Freedom in Sioux Falls. It is an anti-human trafficking safe haven that helps victims of trafficking in their office and in conjunction with other social services agencies.
“We work with local law enforcement, medical personnel, and shelters on protocols and responses. I don’t ever look at a boy or girl as choosing that life style. How many three or four-year-old children want to grow up to be prostitutes?” she asked.
The scope of sex trafficking includes prostitution; pornographic photos, websites and films; sex tourism; and forced marriages. Labor victims mostly work in sweatshops, migrant farming, restaurants, manufacturing and contracting. Traffickers identify people who are vulnerable to recruit and use threats and violence to instill fear in the victims. She said some victims cannot speak English and have no one to ask for help.
While many donors have been very generous with Call to Freedom, to receive federal funds applicants need to demonstrate a need. Rasmussen explained statistic keeping for that purpose needs to be streamlined and combined by the agencies which have contact with victims.
She added there is little recrimination against customers. “Buyers fuel the demand and if you don’t address that, you don’t address trafficking,” she said.
Jim Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services, correlated viewing pornography and human trafficking.
“Right now, every second in the U.S. over 28,000 users are looking at pornography, while the vast majority of internet users are looking at free images, more than $3,000 per second is spent on porn. Porn sites have more users than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined,” he said. His research revealed consumers spending 8-12 hours each day viewing porn, most are male, but one-third of viewers are female.
He quoted statistics showing that in 2009 there were 251 registered sex offenders in Pennington County and in 2019 there are 346. It is proportional to the national increase of 25 to 30 percent in that time. He said most sex offenders never see prosecution or jail time.
“We are creating an appetite for every type of twisted perverse behavior. Porn is a pastime for millions in our country. What do we do when we realize what a tremendous impact that has on the human mind, appetites and disorders,” said Kinyon. “In the name of freedom what are we enslaving ourselves to?”
He showed slides demonstrating the effects of addiction to porn, drugs and alcohol on human brains. The parts of the brain that register pleasure show little or no dopamine.That is why the abusers futilely attempt increasing stimulation to spark their pleasure centers.
Supervisory Special Agent Brent Gromer is the Internet Crimes Against Children Commander for the State of South Dakota. Among the investigations his office conducts are sting operations for offenders interested in exploiting children for sexual gratification — usually publicized after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There have been 48 arrests and over half of those charged are local citizens he said, emphasizing problems in our own communities.
“We are starting to see more and more of a nexus between human trafficking and the internet,” said Gromer. “In the past 10 years our internet crimes unit has worked approximately 400 cases statewide.”
Showing a slide of internet icons he said, “Now there is a red light district in every town in South Dakota. You place access to that in every child’s hand when you give them a cell phone.”
He also said that legislation is trying to keep up with it. The federal government shut down backpage.com. “We are seeing people going to other websites,” said Gromer. He said a lot of sites are operated in foreign countries that do not have the same laws which hampers investigating those crimes.
“It took me 20 years to understand that even if we don’t get a conviction the case can be successful if we made a difference in someone’s life,” he said.
Agreeing with Jim Kinyon on the desire to escalate stimulation he said the progression of pornography eventually turns to child pornography. Then it will include torturing and abusing children. “Where do they go from there … they go to hands on abuse against children. There is nothing in our society that is more taboo than sex with a child,” he said.
Rev. Tess Franzen is a licensed minister with Assemblies of God. She is the founder and executive director of Freedom’s Journey in Rapid City. It assists survivors of all types of human trafficking.
“It is so encouraging whenever an organization comes to us and says ‘hey, we want to increase awareness of human trafficking, can you join in?’” she said. “The more of us who are aware of what is happening, the better odds we have of ending it.”
She began college after her youngest child was age 18. She holds both bachelors and masters degrees. “The whole time I was in college I knew God was asking me to do something to address human trafficking. I just didn’t know what it was,” she said.
She worked with FREE International in Las Vegas which is an anti-human trafficking organization. “I knew then that God was calling me to address human trafficking right here,” she said. “It is something that happens in every community in America.”
She researched and found there were no coordinated efforts to address human trafficking here. Every organization she contacted — law enforcement, Homeland Security, social service agencies and religious leaders sent representatives to help out with a task force. For the past three years that task force has been working successfully to pass state legislation to decriminalize prostitution for 16 and 17 year olds. “We maintain that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, there are prostituted children,” she said. The group had already gotten legislation passed that children under age 15 cannot be arrested for prostitution.
July 1, when the new law is enacted, children in the 16 and 17-year-old age range involved with prostitution will be put in the Child in Need of Supervision Program in this state. The task force will be working on more legislation next year.
According to Reverend Franzen, traffickers and people who pay for sex, whether it is a minor or an unwilling adult, have to dehumanize victims.
“If we truly value people as the unique creations of God that they are, we could never use them,” she said. “We cannot watch the news today and fail to see there are some broken things and broken people in our culture.”
She started Freedom’s Journey in 2016 to address the challenges faced by people exiting slavery. Her clients “have been wounded in ways you and I can’t imagine. They need safe people to walk with them,” she said.
Kelly Patterson was trafficked in and around South Dakota as a child. Today, she is a pastor at Restored Life Outreach Fellowship, Rapid City; a wife and mother in a blended family; and a grandmother. She authored a book, “From Trafficked to Treasured,” to illuminate prostitution trafficking rings.
She said the types of traffickers/pimps seen predominantly in the Midwest are Romeo pimps — boyfriends or spouses; Gang/motorcycle club trafficking; familial trafficking, and ring trafficking. Ring trafficking is a criminal organization involved in sex trafficking utilizing several people in various locations.
Polaris Project, founded in 2002, works to end human trafficking. According to Patterson, Polaris has received phone calls from every county of every state in the nation.
According to Patterson the reason she told her story now is news stories on trafficking in this state didn’t cover it to the extent to which she knew it was happening.
At age 4 she was a molested by a man who knew her family; things escalated quickly afterwards. The people responsible were authority figures in her community.
“I assumed there was something wrong with me. What was this thing and why was this thing a secret? I was warned and warned ‘you don’t tell,’” she said.
The average life expectancy of someone in prostitution is 7 years. The average age of induction is 12-13 according to reports she has read.
She was kept in prostitution by threats against her family, sexual assaults and torture.
She said she was pushed into escort services, films, parties, and strip clubs. To keep her weight at 98 pounds her traffickers only allowed her to eat one can of tomato soup, a candy bar and a cola daily. She added more than 80 percent of survivors have horrific health problems.
Losing a third baby, combined with someone looking her in the eyes and
acknowledging her as a human being and not an object, gave her the guts to try to get out at age of 22. She said 99 percent of the people trafficked die in the system.
“God had a bigger purpose,” she said. “I’d like you to pray for me in all that I do in the future and for all of us doing this work.”
She concluded with a quote from
Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”