South Dakota usually isn’t the first state you’d think of to be a hub for human trafficking. But there are a few characteristics that make South Dakota a potential environment for trafficking. “In this state, Native women and children are at higher risk than any other racial groups, so trafficking is actually happening on the reservations,” Dr. Yumi Suzuki, assistant criminal justice professor at the University of South Dakota, says.
She says most students aren’t aware of it happening in the state. “The first response from students was, “Oh, I didn’t know this was a problem. I thought it was a problem in New York or Chicago, just big cities but not in South Dakota.” So, again, self-awareness about this issue is a key point, and that was done. The next stage, next response, was it’s really deplorable, what can we do? I think nowadays, young people especially college students are really passionate about getting involved and solving issues in practical ways,” Suzuki says.
“I think people are really surprised because I know South Dakota is the sixth largest state that has the worst human trafficking problem, in the United States. I think people are really surprised because we do peg ourselves as more conservative state, more wholesome, so they don’t want to think that this is happening within South Dakota,” University of South Dakota junior Brooke Horner says.
“As young women, we grow up and we do see these provocative ads of ladies and we deem that as normal. Your whole life while you’re growing up and see women dressed provocatively, it becomes normalized to you. So pornography, that also becomes normalized because why can’t you use someone for their outer appearance? It’s degrading the human soul, the dignity of a person,” she says.
Professor Yumi Suzuki says the university level is a great place to start addressing sex trafficking. “This is a really great environment, because we have, in proximity, the medical school, the law school and the main campus here. And, human trafficking requires multi-sector, multi-disciplines approaches to solve it, so we could all collaborate. Obviously medical school, they could actually train medical students to be aware of signs of trafficked victims. Law school, maybe some students are already showing interest in going into immigration and human rights law, they could actually emphasize those two things to fight against human trafficking,” Suzuki says.
Suzuki says she hopes South Dakota will implement better human trafficking laws and create a state-wide curriculum to train law enforcement officers. Suzuki and Horner both agree that the most critical step to combating sex trafficking is increasing awareness throughout the state.
Learn more at Cassie Bartlett’s South Dakota Public Broadcasting article: Sex Trafficking in South Dakota: A University Perspective.