To combat sex crimes against children statewide, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a new bill into law eliminating the statute of limitations of sex crimes against children. Senate File 562 goes over any crimes against children, including incest, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.
Despite the recent attention to the topic with the signing, human and sex trafficking has been a prevalent issue in Iowa for years.
Sgt. Brady Carney of the Des Moines Police Department has been working on Sex and Human trafficking in the metro for years. Currently, Carney is working on a few federal trafficking cases that started in Iowa, trying to stop anyone from forcing someone else, one way or another, to sell themselves for sex. It’s why he’s considered a federal expert on human trafficking in the state.
According to Carney, many of the cases he has dealt with he stumbled on. He would often be working on another case, usually, one involving potential drug offenses. But then he’d uncover something more sinister. He’d hit on a trafficking case or ring.
“Every victim has vulnerabilities., Some are from broken homes, and many are drug users or drug addicts who don’t have a strong support network,” Carney said.
Carney said that it’ is not uncommon for these defendants to eventually get charged with a gun- or drug-related charges instead of trafficking depending on what DMPD has for evidence. This situation might go a long way to explain why so few have been charged with trafficking crimes here since 2015.
Yet Des Moines is a hotspot for sex and human trafficking, so much so that it is currently ranked as one of the top 100 places for human trafficking in the United States.
Nationwide, there are a total of 22,326 trafficking victims and survivors, according to Polaris.com, an anti-trafficking data website and organization. As of 2019, there have been a total of 98 trafficking cases in the state of Iowa. The most concerning aspect of these crimes is how prevalent these cases are in Des Moines, Carney noted. Throughout his years of investigative work, he talked about how many of the trafficking cases that started small ended up exposing whole webs of organized sex crime within Des Moines and the Midwest. “It’s something that’s not talked about. It’s shameful and problematic,” Carney said.
This past week, The Southern District of Iowa announced via a statement that Des Moines man, Marlin Santana Thomas, pleaded guilty to several federal sex trafficking charges, including sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion. The statement noted six victims by acting United States Attorney Richard D. Westphal; one was a 14-year-old victim.
At a Turning Point USA Iowa chapter conference, a mixed group of high school and college students had American political activist and anti-human trafficking advocate Sophia Fisher speak about sex trafficking. Throughout the presentation, Fisher talked about the different forms of human trafficking: sexual exploitation, forced labor, organ harvesting—all of which occurs throughout the nation and the world.
To bring those numbers down, Fisher thinks it comes down to education. She noted a vast disconnect between what law enforcement knows versus the general public’s knowledge. “I think that there needs to be more educational training; I’m a big proponent of that,” Fisher said.
But it doesn’t stop there. She also thinks law enforcement and schools statewide should receive more training to spot signs of trafficking and prevent it.
“I think the state should be making sure victims are getting the resources that they need, they should be having access to career development and having access to mentorships, schooling, all of that because what we would hate to see is that someone’s who’s rescued from trafficking goes back into trafficking because they don’t have the proper resources and they’re vulnerable after,” Fisher said.
Fisher also talked about how Iowa needs to have more beds and safehouses for survivors while having medical personnel be more aware of potential victims they are in contact with. She lastly talked about the needed education in schools nationwide on sex trafficking in general.
Iowa Field Report will continue to cover this issue.