Human trafficking exploits others for labor, sex

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Mariana Vega, a human trafficking specialist with Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, spoke at the Guttenberg library on Aug. 3. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

By Shelia Tomkins 

"The faces of human trafficking are more common than you'd think," said Mariana Vaga, a human-trafficking specialist with Cedar Valley Friends of the Family who spoke at the Guttenberg library on Aug. 3 as part of her mission to raise public awareness of the crime.

Human trafficking victims can be found anywhere — from major metropolitan areas to small Iowa communities. The victims look like anyone — they can be male, female, all ages and all demographics. 

Vega defined human trafficking as using force, fraud and coercion  to exploit someone for labor or commercial sex.

She described some of the tactics used by human traffickers to "groom" their victims into compliance. She discussed places frequented by those looking for victims, and told how certain internet sites provide an easy way for traffickers to make a profit from others, especially in the sex trade.

"Victims often don't come forward to law enforcement," said Vega, noting that they fear reprisals from their traffickers. Certain populations are at higher risk, such as run-aways, minors, the homeless, and immigrants. 

Since victims often don't self-report, Vega gave a list of warning signs that might indicate human trafficking. Signs include physical trauma, malnourishment, signs of addiction and even physical branding with tattoos. Victims may also exhibit psychological and behavioral signs of abuse. She displayed a map of Iowa that showed recent convictions for human-trafficking and told of a recent case in Decorah.

To learn more about human trafficking, go online to www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign. To report any suspected cases, call 1-866-347-2423 or, in an emergency, dial 911. Cedar Valley Friends of the Family provides help for victims. They have a 24-hour crisis line, 1-800-410-7233.

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