Photo Credit: Imagens Evangélicas (CC-By-2.0)

Human trafficking is a horrific activity that destroys lives.

Over the past three years, the U.S. House of Representatives enacted legislation to fight and help victims of this crime.

Most recently the House approved a sweeping reauthorization of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act, a law that combats human trafficking by allocating funding for prevention efforts and programs that identify and assist victims of all types of human trafficking.

This legislation was in addition to the more than a dozen bills passed by the House this year dealing with addressing the horrors of human trafficking.

At a recent meeting with Iowans, I was discussing this work by the House. A hand shot up from the group as I finished my comments. The Iowan said, “Congressman, human trafficking is a big city problem, this doesn’t happen here in Iowa.”

The sad reality is human trafficking does exist in Iowa.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline noted that human trafficking reports almost doubled in the State of Iowa from 2015 to 2016. The overwhelming majority of the reports are of sex trafficking, but there were also reports of labor trafficking.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime, and the sad reality is the majority of trafficking cases in the U.S. go undetected each year.

The fight to end the human trafficking is not a battle reserved for law enforcement alone. Every one of us can play a role in stopping one the greatest humanitarian tragedies of our time.

One of the best ways we can help in this battle is by being aware of the warning signs of human trafficking and then alerting law enforcement authorities when we encounter an individual exhibiting these signs.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, people often become victims because they come from economically desperate situations and agree to work to pay off a large debt. Some are lured to leave their home by a job in the city where they will be able to send money back home but then wind up a victim of human trafficking.

Because of these circumstances, victims are often not free to come and go as they please. Disconnected from family and friends they lack personal possessions. They are very anxious, fearful, or submissive. They only ever speak through an intermediary or frequently use rehearsed lines as if they have been coached on what to say.

Physical indicators could be that the individual appears malnourished, has bruises in various stages of healing, or is suffering from sleep deprivation.

Not every victim of human trafficking exhibits all of the signs, nor do any of these signs guarantee that a person is a victim of human trafficking. However, being aware of these indicators and consciously looking for them in individuals of whom we are suspicious are simple things that we can do to help identify and end this horrific crime.

If a person you know exhibits any combination of these symptoms, do not confront the victim or the suspected trafficker about any of your suspicions. Instead, immediately contact your local law enforcement officers, the DHS tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423), or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. For more information about human trafficking, you can visit dhs.gov/blue-campaign, polarisproject.org or humantraffickinghotline.org.

By working together as neighbors who look out for our neighbors, we can begin to turn back this sinister enterprise that strikes at the very heart of our communities and the lives of the innocent.

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