Pate urges Iowans to learn, do more about human trafficking

DES MOINES — Sunday is “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons” and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is challenging Iowans to use the opportunity to learn something and do something about human trafficking.

“It’s right here in Iowa, unfortunately. We’re very proud of our state and we think it’s the best place to live, but it’s not always the best place for everyone,” Pate says. “…Tune in and learn about it and basically be our eyes and ears and help law enforcement with that.”

From 2021 to 2022, there was a 61% increase in the number of tips called into the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s human trafficking tip line. Sergeant Elizabeth Quinn, a deputy sheriff in Story County, says she can’t share details, but her department is currently investigating tips about children and adults who may be forced into some type of labor or commercial sex.

“The first step in stopping this crime lies in awareness and we’re really just trying to get the word out on making sure that Iowans are looking for signs of human trafficking among their neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and that they’re looking for sudden changes in their appearance or behavior,” Quinn says. “Maybe they might be isolating themselves or repetitively missing school.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, half of the tips about human trafficking from Iowa in 2021 were about minors. Quinn says children are “very vulnerable” to traffickers lurking on social media. “We do know that through the U.S. Department of Justice the average age of a U.S. citizen first being trafficked is 12-14 years old,” Quinn says. “…Awareness is everything.”

In 2016, Quinn spent six months in Washington, D.C., working in the Human Trafficking and Child Protection Division with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). In 2022, Pate created the Iowa Businesses Against Trafficking network. It now includes nearly 700 businesses that are training employees and posting tip line numbers in workplaces and restrooms. Pate cites a recent arrest in an Iowa convenience store. “A woman was being trafficked and she saw the sticker and she went the store counter and said: ‘Hey, I’m being trafficked. I need help,’” Pate says. “They immediately called law enforcement and the officer came and arrested the trafficker and got her out of a bad situation.”

A state law that went into effect this year has increased penalties for human trafficking and those convicted of trafficking children could be sentenced to life in prison.