ISU lecturer crusades against human trafficking

Talon Delaney

Human trafficking is something people don’t like to associate with their community. 75 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide report that no human trafficking happens in their jurisdiction, one Northeastern University study found.

“They believe it happens, but that it doesn’t happen in their jurisdiction,” says Alissa Stoehr, a lecturer in ISU’s sociology department. “I beg to differ. It does,” she contests.

And it’s hard to deny her. There’s anywhere from 21-27 million trafficking victims estimated in the US each year. How could such a devastating trade only be conducted under the not-so-watchful eyes of 25 percent of America’s law enforcement?

To Stoehr, the cognitive dissonance expressed by three quarters of law enforcement agencies is part of a much broader phenomenon. People will concede that human trafficking is present and abhorrent, but don’t like to think about it happening in their immediate community.

“People don’t think it happens in small towns… or it’s too horrid for people to think about so they make themselves ignorant [to human trafficking]” Stoehr said.

Stoehr holds a doctorate in higher education and began teaching at ISU in spring of 2016. Among other classes, she teaches women’s studies 450, a class designed by her own intuition about human trafficking. However, she’s been giving lectures about human trafficking since 2011.

“I’ll talk to three people or 100 people, I don’t care,” Stoehr said. As long as she’s getting the message out, she feels she’s doing her job.

There are three major human trafficking cases that occurred in Iowa Stoehr spoke of in her lecture, but the raid in Postville, Iowa is perhaps most notable, where about 400 undocumented workers were discovered illegally working for Agriprocessors, Inc. in 2008.

Stoehr discussed how students react to the horror of child sex and labor trafficking in her class, and has even had students walk out after becoming overwhelmed with emotion.

“It’s hard for people to think about children being trafficked, and that can be an impediment to people learning about what’s going on,” Stoehr said.

Human trafficking was made a top federal concern during Barack Obama’s presidency, and he also dubbed January “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.” This pleased Stoehr, and she remains hopeful (but uncertain) the Trump Administration will carry this torch.

“The government knows, congress knows,” said Stoehr, and she insists now the key to fighting human trafficking comes down to vigilant and aware citizens and police. Stoehr constantly implores people to report any suspicious activity.

“If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t,” Stoehr said. To her, it’s better to contact the police when there is no trafficking than to abstain from reporting a possible human trafficking victim.

One of Stoehr’s areas of concern is police being undereducated about human trafficking, insisting that the four hours of mandatory training on the subject “is not enough.”

Human trafficking is a gross and inhumane industry. Traffickers prey on vulnerable youth, immigrants, and even pregnant women. It is not limited to those demographics. Anybody could be trafficked, and it could happen anywhere at anytime. Contact the police if you see any suspicious activity.

If you want to reach out to an independent, confidential help line, dial this number for the Polaris Project: 1-888-373-7888, or text “HELP” to 233733. 


Find out what you can do to fight human trafficking here:

It could happen to any of us. Learn more about the dark truth of human trafficking here: