Combatting Iowa’s underground business

This photo is a photo illustration, and is not the person portrayed in the story. Human trafficking is the second largest crime industry in the world. It is estimated that around 27 million people are trafficked globally.

Emily Hammer

Iowa is notorious for being a quiet state where the people are kind and neighborly. The uninformed citizen would never guess the dark secret these borders hold: human sex trafficking.

Because of its location in the central United States and in the middle of big cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis, Iowa is a prime location for human trafficking. Another factor is the presence of Interstates 80 and 35 respectively going east to west and north to south in Iowa.

With sex trafficking businesses hiding as massage parlors, Des Moines has found itself in the top 100 cities for sex trafficking, according to the Polaris Project.

On Jan. 9, Gov. Terry Branstad declared January as Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month as a way to raise awareness for the issue.

On the Iowa State campus, Iowa State University Student’s Network Against Human Trafficking is hosting a supplies drive and will give all donations to Wings of Refuge and Dorothy’s House, which provide rehabilitation services to human trafficking victims.

The club is looking for female hygiene items, puzzles, games, art and scrapbooking supplies, grocery gift cards and crafts.

Rachel Sporer, president of ISU Student’s Network Against Human Trafficking, enjoys the outreach and education the club does.

The club tries to speak to several organizations and residence halls each semester about what human trafficking is and what the signs are. The members encourage people to contact them about coming in to speak.

Sporer’s interest in preventing human trafficking stems from watching “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” while she was growing up.

“There’s a lot of stuff on there about trafficking. I’ve always had a heart for helping others,” Sporer said. “It broke my heart that that’s all some people think they’re worth is a monetary value that someone else has put on them.”

Before coming to college, she said she had never thought of trafficking happening in Iowa and had always pictured it in New York, Chicago and other big cities. But being at college and talking to more people has shown her that “there are creeps like that in Iowa.”

Now a junior, Sporer has been attending meetings since she was a freshman. Although it was mostly talking about the issue in earlier meetings, she said they are now getting more involved on Iowa State’s campus.

There is still a lot of discussion at meetings, but they recently promoted the Heels for Hope run and pushed for an anti-trafficking office at the Department of Public Safety. The club also hosts a self-defense class every semester, which is one of Sporer’s favorite parts.

“I think that self-love and empowerment is one of the main ways to break the cycle,” Sporer said. “Self-defense is a really good way to feel empowered and feel like you can protect yourself.”

The club is already in the process of planning a 5K called “Run for One” in the fall to support Wings of Refuge in Iowa Falls.

Diana Baltimore, the recently appointed adviser for the club, is happy to stand by the students as they raise awareness.

Before becoming their adviser in fall 2016, Baltimore had worked on legislation regarding sex trafficking based on what surrounding states were doing.

Her passion for fighting against sex trafficking comes from a personal experience, after she found out someone she knew was a victim.

“I thought, ‘Human trafficking? That’s something that happens in another country,’” Baltimore said. “I talked to [the victim] and I read stuff that [she] had written, and I had no idea how widespread it was.”

Realizing it struck much closer to home than she thought, Baltimore wants to raise awareness of sex trafficking in the states so fewer people have a similar reaction.

That same semester, Baltimore had another student come to her and ask to speak in one of her classes about trauma. She explained that the student was also a victim of trafficking.

Both of the victims Baltimore knew at that time were trafficked in Iowa.

“At that point, I thought, ‘I definitely need to do something,’” she said.

From a critical thinking standpoint, Baltimore thinks one of the reasons Des Moines is on the top 100 list is because Iowa has become more aware of human trafficking within its borders.

“Still, it’s a problem; we know it’s happening,” Baltimore said. “We know it’s happening in Ames, we know it’s happening in Des Moines, and the more that we can get that information out to people and let them know what to look for and who to contact, those are key to help prevent.”

As far as January being declared Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness month, Baltimore is excited. To her, it’s voices being heard.

The Iowa State Daily staff has retracted information stated in this article pertaining to arrests in the Eastern Iowa area. We apologize for any information that may have been incorrect.