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Human Trafficking in Iowa: The Facts


What's the extent of the problem, both in Iowa and across the U.S.?

In 2017, there were 218 calls made from Iowa to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and there were 74 human trafficking cases reported that year. Those numbers have steadily increased since 2012.

The number of identified victims in the U.S. is on the rise. The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded a 35 percent increase in reports in 2016.

Are underage children being trafficked?

Yes. Not only that, but a study from the Center for Court Innovation found that younger victims see more customers than older victims (the children ages 13-17 were purchased by an average of 5.4 customers per day versus 4.4 times per day for those aged 18-24).

Are traffickers always men?

No. The UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking found that 52 percent of people recruiting victims are men, 42% are women, and 6% are both men and women working together.

Who are the buyers?

According to a 2014 study, about 14 percent of men in the United States report having ever paid for sex, and 1 percent report having done so during the previous year. "Of a small group of highly active customers – those who sought out sex workers listed on a prostitute review website - a substantial portion of them are married white men who earn over $120,000 annually, and have graduate degrees."

Where does trafficking occur?

About 75 percent of trafficking occurs in hotels/motels, according to Stephen O’Meara, a retired human trafficking coordinator with the Nebraska Attorney General's Office. This is why advocates in Iowa are focused on training hotel and motel staff to recognize trafficking as it happens.
Trafficking also happens in illicit massage parlors in Iowa

What are signs of human trafficking?
Theresa Davidson, co-founder and president of Chains Interrupted, says common signs include: "Anyone coming in with long term healthcare issues that aren’t being addressed, like diabetes, chronic issues, multiple STDs, old wounds that weren't cared for properly."

Look for signs that someone is being controlled by someone else. Often victims, "won't look you in the eye, won't speak for themselves, and don't know where they are." 

Another sign of trafficking is a certain type of tattoo. Davidson says traffickers will brand victims with tattoos, "like bar codes, dollar signs, their names, or the word 'whore' or 'slut.' You see a lot of barcodes and dollar signs behind the ear."

Davidson is also an anti-human trafficking coordinator at Mercy Medical Center.
You can reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. The Iowa Helpline can be reached by dialing 1-800-770-1650 or texting "IOWAHELP" to 20121.