The good news is also the bad news: Yankton now has an individual whose job is to address human trafficking in this area.
It’s good news because that person, Maggie Jensen, has been hired by River City Domestic Violence (RCDV) to focus on the threat of human trafficking and how to help its victims.
The bad news, of course, is that there is a perceived need for such a position, that there is a problem that needs addressing.
A story in Monday’s Press & Dakotan reported that Yankton has been selected as one of four pilot communities in South Dakota eligible for funding to create a position called a human trafficking coordinator. Funding would be available from the Victims of Crime Act and the Sioux Falls-based group Call to Freedom, which deals with victims of human trafficking.
Desiree Johnson, executive director RCDV, said, “Call to Freedom and our organization started having talks about what (human trafficking) looks like, and what they see come to them from Yankton and other places in the state.”
Johnson knows that human trafficking is on the rise.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen a drastic increase of people coming to our organization that had different dynamics about them, that weren’t the typical power and control of domestic violence and sexual assault,” she said. “They had more of the trafficking elements, and five years ago, we didn’t have all the training that we needed to recognize some of the dynamics that we were seeing.”
Human trafficking, which is basically a form of slavery, is often associated with sexual victimization, but it also includes coercing people to do things. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. … Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.”
It’s on the rise worldwide, including the United states. According to Business Insider, “Since 2007, more than 49,000 cases of human trafficking in the U.S. have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which receives an average of 150 calls per day.” And yet, overall numbers are hard to determine because of the shadowy nature of the issue.
And it can happen anywhere, even in Yankton, which brings in more than a million visitors a year. That is one aspect that can cultivate trafficking at a location.
Jensen’s job is a vital one. Her mission is not only to help the victims of human trafficking, but also to help local professionals in various fields recognize the signs of human trafficking.
“Our team is dedicated to getting out into the community and educating our community on what this looks like,” she said.
So, in that respect, the bad news is also the good news. There is a problem, but Yankton is now gathering the tools to begin working, if not toward a solution — which there may not be one — then at least toward building a stronger defense and offering help to victims.