Unlike many in South Dakota for whom human trafficking is a reality somewhere else, Elizabeth Talbot, an associate professor and director of the Master of Social Work Program at the University of South Dakota, has studied human trafficking for over a decade. “Well, you know human trafficking is an international issue and it’s been on the world stage since the late 1990’s, so we’re really in the second decade of research and dealing with this issue,” Talbot says.
“There’s three types of trafficking: labor trafficking, sex trafficking, and the commercial exploitation of children for sexual purposes. All three of those are present in South Dakota,” says Talbot. Talbot says two events in South Dakota – hunting season and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – can be defined as sex tourism.
Reverend Kimberly Kaveny works for Be Free Ministries, a Sioux Falls organization that works with trafficking victims. Kaveny says vulnerable teens are often approached through the internet. “You can be on a Facebook, and if you don’t have the right protection on your Facebook for instance, and you’re a young teenager who’s really vulnerable about where they’re at and what they’re struggling with, that can be propositioned by a trafficker. Groomed, we call it,” says Kaveny.
Virginia Strubbe, a Sioux Falls social worker, says educating the public is key. “At my agency, I think what will be valuable for us to know are some of the indicators that Kevin talked about. What are things that we as citizens in the community can be looking for? What are things that I as a social worker can be looking for when we talk to the women who come to our agency who are facing unplanned pregnancy? What is their situation? What have they had to go through? Are there indicators that we might pick up and could possibly help that person?” Strubbe says.
But despite increased awareness, Elizabeth Talbot says human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity in the world, and is estimated to beat out the drug trade for the number one spot in the next few years. “It’s going to be an uphill battle,” says Talbot.
But that doesn’t stop South Dakota officials from investigating cases, prosecuting traffickers, offering healing and hope to victims, and educating the public.
Learn more at Jaden Miller’s South Dakota Public Broadcasting article: Fighting Human Trafficking in South Dakota.