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New statewide initiative will help businesses combat human trafficking

Kassidy Arena
The Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery stands with Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Secretary of State Paul Pate with the proclamation declaring January Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

There’s a new way for Iowa businesses to help combat human trafficking in the state. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has announced a new statewide alliance called Iowa Businesses Against Trafficking (IBAT). Every business that signs up will have access to resources and training to learn how to take action and prevent human trafficking.

“I believe our business community can make the difference. We’re asking businesses that join IBAT to commit to two things: to learn something and to do something," Pate said at the announcement at the Iowa Capitol. His office will run the website for the alliance.

In 2020, Iowa saw hundreds of human trafficking cases. And although the 2021 numbers aren’t out yet, Pate, along with the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery (NAHT), said they hope this new initiative will help lower those numbers with the ultimate goal of eliminating cases of trafficking all together.

NAHT board chair Dr. George Belitsos listed the Iowa 2020 statistics:

  • Served 558 sex trafficking survivors.
  • Served 158 labor trafficking survivors.
  • It's estimated only 1 percent of those who are being trafficked ever get help.
  • Law enforcement identified 246 victims, 49 traffickers and 16 trafficking businesses.
  • 14 traffickers were convicted and sentenced to prison. Three were charged for forced labor.

More than 30 businesses have already signed up for membership with IBAT, and Pate said those numbers are increasing by the minute.
Pate added every business in Iowa can join, "so my office is going to reach out to all 260,000 of them and ask them to become a member of IBAT and join this cause to end human trafficking in Iowa.”

Kassidy Arena
At the event to declare January Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Secretary of State Paul Pate announced a new initiative to help Iowa businesses combat human trafficking. Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg appeared in Gov. Kim Reynolds' place to speak at the event, also held by the the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery.

The kickoff announcement for IBAT wrapped up the ceremony for Gov. Reynolds' proclamation reaffirming January to be Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Reynolds signed the proclamation beforehand. A press release from Reynolds' office said she wasn't feeling well and could not attend Thursday's event. It added that she had tested negative for COVID-19.

In her place, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg presented the proclamation before the ceremony continued with awards for outstanding work in anti-trafficking. NAHT announced five recipients for the award.

Kassidy Arena
NAHT Board Chair Dr. George Belitsos holds a sign that says "SET THEM FREE," at the proclamation event. He urged ceremony attendees to chant it with him.

Max Christensen, Executive Officer of School Transportation at Iowa Department of Education, for his work in ensuring all school bus drivers in Iowa are trained to recognize and prevent human trafficking.

Sister Mary Lechtenberg, Chair of the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking, for her work facilitating training and awareness campaigns including working with legislators to introduce a law that started this year. It requires hotels and motels that receive state monies to undergo human trafficking awareness training.

Kim Hilby, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Dubuque, for her work in creating guidelines for best practices in services for adult survivors of trafficking and facilitating university anti-trafficking groups.

Lenchen Raeside, Cofounder of Chains Interrupted, for her work restoring survivors when they escape trafficking as well as funding awareness campaigns.

Susan Mitchell, Spokesperson for Hotel/Motel Employee Training Video Production Team, for her and her team's work in creating training videos for hotel and motel employees to identify signs of human trafficking.

All recipients said there is still more work to do in the state of Iowa. In addition to awareness campaigns, informational trainings and programs, they also said they'd like to see more men join the fight to combat human trafficking, which is most prevalent in women and children.

NAHT board chair Dr. George Belitsos wrapped up the ceremony by sharing some legislative priorities for 2022 which included making Iowa a safe harbor state (31 states have passed the law which prevents minors from being prosecuted for prostitution).

If you or someone you know is in need of resources to combat, identify or escape a case of human trafficking:

CALL the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or TEXT “HELP” to BeFree (233733)
CALL the Statewide Iowa Crisis Line at 800-770-1650 or TEXT "iowahelp" to 20121

More resources are available at the NAHT website. For more, click here.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines