Law enforcement and groups that fight human trafficking in Iowa can now better coordinate their efforts to combat the enslavement of people for the purposes of forced labor or sex work. Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill Thursday to establish an anti-human trafficking office within the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
"This office will provide a main focus point of contact for human trafficking issues in the state, as well as the leadership necessary to help leverage other resources to better address this heinous crimes," says Branstad.
Foster care advocate Ruth Buckels says she knows roughly 140 former human trafficking victims in Iowa, six of whom are now her adopted children. But, Buckels says some Iowa law enforcement still don’t believe trafficking is a problem in their communities.
"It is in small town, it's on the road, it's in gas stations, it's at hotels, it's at motels, it's at strip malls, it's at the movie theater," says Buckels. "It's any place that you are."
Buckels says she hopes the new office will help law enforcement realize that the forced labor or sexual servitude are problems in every community.
In addition to coordinating efforts, one of the anti-human trafficking office’s missions is to help government agencies identify and appropriately respond to trafficking victims. The office will also collect data and conduct research.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says 36 human trafficking cases were reported in Iowa during 2015. Each case may involve multiple victims and may involve brothels, online ads, or escort services.