Expand Iowa Anti-Human Trafficking Laws

Since 2011, Brittany Phillips, 21, has been telling Iowans about how she fell into a net of predators who forced her into prostitution. She was 15 at the time. “I saw some things that I didn’t think I’d ever see,” Phillips said.

Phillips and others are urging Iowa lawmakers to expand a human trafficking bill signed into law last April by Governor Terry Branstad. That law broadened the definition of the crime of human trafficking to include purchasing “commercial sexual activity” from a victim of human trafficking. It also added that ignorance of a victim’s age is no defense against human trafficking charges and created a new felony offense for forcing or recruiting a minor to engage in commercial sexual activity.

The group wants lawmakers to add providing victim services to survivors and dropping charges, such as prostitution, against them; providing priority status in the assistance of education and job placement; and requiring law enforcement, attorneys and those in the judicial branch to receive training on human trafficking.

Phillips was 7 when her father died. For the next several years, she was physically and sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. She was removed from her mother’s home when she was 13 and sent to a treatment facility in Iowa City for counseling. When Phillips was 15, she ran away from the facility and went to Cedar Rapids. One day, a man approached her and asked if she wanted a modeling job. Phillips, who was starving and broke, accepted the offer. The man, she found out, was a drug dealer. She was taken to Chicago, where she was forced to perform sexual acts with men for money.

About three months after Phillips ran away, she was arrested for prostitution. She eventually was released to her sister, who lived in Iowa, and she again spent time in a treatment facility for counseling. In 2008, Phillips was sent to live with Ruth Buckels, statewide coordinator for Achieving Maximum Potential, an advocacy group for young people who have been involved with foster care. Buckels adopted Phillips two years later.

“Ever since I started telling my story, people started telling me their story,” Phillips said. When speaking of the proposed changes to Iowa’s law, Phillips said, “It’s important to me because when victims come out (after being trafficked) they don’t have the opportunities I’ve had,” Phillips said. “When you’re being trafficked, it’s like your body and soul aren’t there.”

Learn more at Tiffany De Masters’ Des Moines Register article: Expand human trafficking law, Iowa victim says.


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