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May 08, 2015 10:00 PM

Healing After Human Trafficking

Sioux Falls, SD

Human Trafficking has become a serious issue across the country, including right here in KELOLAND.

For many victims life after being trafficked can be very difficult, but in Sioux Falls, there are resources to make the transition easier.

Many people probably drive past the downtown office every day without a second thought. Inside is an organization that helps human trafficking victims. Formerly known as Be Free, Call To Freedom has been in Sioux Falls for six years. The name change came with a new outlook.

"We are doing a lot more outreach. I'm going out where our clients are versus waiting for them to come through our doors or to be referred to us," Executive Director Kimberly LaPlante said.

LaPlante has been working with trafficking victims around the world for more than 13 years. In South Dakota, she says there's three different ways that people are trafficked. They're brought from bigger cities through South Dakota on the way to North Dakota's Oil Fields. They're sold at large events like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And there's homegrown human trafficking -- the most common problem.

"It's often times in family structures, or family systems. Uncles, Aunts, friends of the family, neighbors. It's like interwoven in the family systems," LaPlante said.

Call To Freedom wants to end the cycle. The organization starts at the ground level, providing emergency services to victims. Once away from the threat, Call to Freedom helps victims find housing, get jobs or an education.

"We're there to help them develop support systems; many of them come ground zero to us," LaPlante said.

It's a long journey, but LaPlante says the end product is worth it.

"Often they come to us as victims and then they become survivors," LaPlante said.

One of those survivors is Melissa. She doesn't want to show her face on camera, but says without Call to Freedom, her life wouldn't be the same.

"If I'm having a bad day I can pick up a phone and somebody is there to cheer me up or send me a text message saying, 'Hey, good job.  Way to go. We're here for you. We love you,'" she said.

Melissa was trafficked as a child by her mother. She's been with Call to Freedom for four years. Being able to talk about what happened to her at a young age has made her life after the abuse easier.

"We need the support systems for even like single moms and children. They need somebody for them and Call to Freedom can be the right resources or even be the resource for you," Melissa said.

Another resource is My Sister Friend's House in Sioux Falls. Its doors are open to anyone that is dealing with problems like domestic violence, sex trafficking and stalking. It provides outreach and medical services to make sure everyone under its roof is safe.

"We are pretty much side by side with individuals that need our help," Shelter Coordinator Sarah Johnson said.

Services the state of South Dakota desperately needs.

"We do work with all nine reservations. We work state-wide with other shelters. We are constantly busy. We can't keep up with the amount of calls that are coming in," Johnson said.

Johnson says the best way to fight the issue of human trafficking isn't with shelters, but with people talking about the problem.

"It's about our community collaborating together and educating each other on how we can and can't help. That I think honestly is the biggest piece that we need," Johnson said.

The problem is also getting attention from Capitol Hill. 

The Human Trafficking, Prevention, Intervention and Recovery Act, first introduced by Representative Kristi Noem, recently passed unanimously through the U.S. Senate.  This bill will allow shelters and facilities that aid trafficking victims access to funding.

LaPlante says the legislation is important not just for the funding but also the awareness.

"Whenever we bring something to the table and we begin to have discussions about it, especially as lawmakers and those that have voices, it's great when we have these types of discussions," LaPlante said.

Whether in Washington, D.C. or right here in South Dakota, there is a continuous effort to end the cycle of human trafficking.

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