When she opened Be Free Ministries, an anti-human trafficking organization that rescues victims of trafficking and raises awareness, Susan Omanson had her sights set on overseas. She worked with victims in places like Bangkok, Thailand. Omanson expected sex trafficking to be a big issue over there. Then she took a good look at her home town of Sioux Falls.
"Like most of the population, I had no idea these things were happening and the stories are tragic," Omanson said.
Every form of sex trafficking happens in South Dakota according to Omanson. From sex tourism during hunting season and Sturgis to an increasing number of women and teens being sold on the internet. The latter can often start from something small.
"A lot of kids, they love it when they can say, 'I have 653 friends on Facebook.' But you don't understand when you've let anybody be your friend, who might be lurking on Facebook," Omanson said. "It could be somebody who you think is a 13-year-old girl and it turns out it is a 64-year-old man."
Omanson said prostitution can often be sex trafficking. In many cases, a pimp will use force, fraud and coercion when dealing with prostitutes. Still, the recent arrests are not all bad news. True, it is evidence sex trafficking exists in the area, but Omanson hopes it means people are opening their eyes.
"There's an increased awareness, but also we have amazing law enforcement that have taken this issue on. Everybody from the U.S. Attorney's Office to our Police Department, guys on the street crimes division; amazing," Omanson said.
Plus with helpful tips from concerned citizens, and legislation passed last year, Omanson said we could be slowly catching up to the criminals.
"We're aware of who some of the bigger fish are, and we haven't caught them yet," Omanson said.