Human trafficking awareness spreads in South Dakota

Published: Aug. 15, 2016 at 10:52 PM CDT
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Lower attendance at this year's Sturgis motorcycle rally also helped bring a drop in crime.

While there are no specific statistics involving human trafficking at the rally, organizations working to prevent it say they didn't notice as much suspicious behavior or individuals this year, a sign that heightened awareness may be helping.

“People now when they hear human trafficking, they know what it is,” Junior League of Sioux Falls Human Trafficking Awareness coordinator Dawn Stenberg said.

That wasn't the case four years ago when the Junior League of Sioux Falls started an anti-human trafficking campaign.

“We had one on I-90 for over a year, just to get conversations going and that was towards the rally that people saw that one,” Stenberg said.

With reminders along South Dakota’s interstates, several organizations have also worked to spread the word about trafficking at the rally.

“We were passing out flyers and buttons, lipsticks, business cards, all to just make people aware that it happens,” Alexa Reed with the Call to Freedom said.

While the rally is over, the need for awareness never stops.

“The motorcycle rally definitely has human trafficking, it happens there, but it happens every single night, even in Sioux Falls South Dakota,” Stenberg said.

The risk goes up during any big event that draws more people to the state, but human trafficking can happen anywhere.

“We have a big problem with home grown human trafficking here,” Reed said. “It’s moms and dads, aunts and uncles, selling their nieces or daughters or even their sons and nephews.”

Organizations like Call to Freedom work to help human trafficking victims build a new life.

“Since March we've served about 20 women, that's a big deal in six months,” Reed said.

Stenberg says South Dakota’s record of successfully prosecuting human trafficking offenders is a great deterrent, but one fear is that traffickers are finding new ways to evade law enforcement.