Letter to the editor: Iowa needs to stop incentivizing human trafficking

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo watches as 2018 TIP Report Hero Francisca Awah Mbuli of Cameroon discusses the global challenge of human trafficking. June 28, 2018. — U.S. Department of State/ public domain

By Marco Battaglia

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the trade of humans for forced labor, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the United States. It is estimated that human trafficking generates many billions of dollars of profit per year, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

Human trafficking currently occurs in Iowa. Commercial exploitation is present in the incentivizing of the state removal of children from their biological parents, and in the manufacturing, agriculture and food service industries. Sex trafficking is going on right now in Iowa. I intend to focus on stopping the demand. Issues that those involved with public safety face when trying to help people out of this modern-day slavery include language barriers, fear of the traffickers and/or fear of law enforcement. I will call for modernized training, as well as prioritizing the agenda of law enforcement and county attorneys with the goal of eradicating the act of human trafficking from Iowa within one decade.

I call for a modern approach to effectively address human trafficking without making criminals out of victims or consenting adults. Iowa Code, laws and direction must be clear and concise and work to end the incentivizing of trafficking. We should never be behind on rape test kits. I plan to prioritize and set forth the goal of ending the backlog. The moral imperative of the timely testing of each rape kit is paired with a powerful economic argument: Every dollar that law enforcement spends on analysis returns dollars from averted sex crimes. The moral cost is invaluable.

In sex trafficking and with exploitative labor practices, buyers are people that you walk by here at the fair. In sex trafficking buyers are doctors, lawyers, judges, couples. The average buyer profile is a 30-40-year-old male with family at home, no criminal record and disposable income. Sex trafficking often happens in the context of personal relationships. Traffickers are often family members, caregivers or romantic partners.

Laws should have respect for autonomy and consent. We must end the culture of immunity for buyers. According to Iowa code, buyers and sellers can and must be charged swiftly and aggressively. We must show traffickers and buyers they are not welcome in our state. A just society cannot let this continue. Policies aimed at eliminating trafficking in sex work can also safeguard the rights of sex workers. And policies that promote sex workers’ interests can contribute to anti-trafficking. Human rights principles offer guidance on how to address the two distinct but not contradictory policy objectives.

Marco Battaglia is running for Attorney General of Iowa.

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