Human sex trafficking continues to be a hot topic in Pierre and Congress. We've reported on how law enforcement has ramped up their efforts to crack down on this illegal activity. But those on the front lines who are trying to help the victims, say more needs to be done.
As we've shown you in our series of reports on undercover sting operations with the DCI, sex trafficking can happen anywhere, even here in KELOLAND.
Kerry Stephenson knows that all too well. At age 18, she was trafficked for sex.
"It's not like you go and meet somebody and go on that first date and say, 'hey I'm going to traffic you,' because that's not how it goes," Stephenson said.
She says it can be a long process where someone is grooming you and showering you with gifts and compliments. Luckily Stephenson realized she was in a bad situation and escaped her horror.
"It took awhile with planning, to figuring out where I was going to be safe," Stephenson said.
Stephenson now helps other victims get out of their situations through a non-profit organization called My Sister Friend's House.
"These aren't just stories for attention, these aren't stories for the media, these are real lives," Sarah Johnson of My Sister Friend's House said.
Lives that have been shattered by a vicious cycle of abuse.
"A trafficking survivor will undergo multiple multiple rapes and when that adds up, the amount of stress and trauma that survivors might experience is tremendous," Johnson said.
Helping victims takes money; providing safe shelters and counseling services, but legislatively more could be done so victims aren't afraid to tell someone when they find themselves in a bad situation.
"If the laws are going to be tougher, they need to be tougher in a way that are survivor friendly," Kimberly St. John of My Sister Friend's House said.
"There's a lot that needs to be done, but most of all, we need you to listen, the survivor needs you to listen and most of all, the survivor needs you to believe them," Johnson said.
You can hear more from all three women about sex trafficking here in South Dakota on this week's Inside KELOLAND. That airs Sunday night at 10:30 following KELOLAND News at 10.