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Sex Trafficking Education

March 18, 2014, 9:52 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Sex Trafficking Education
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Human sex trafficking has been a big point of conversation this year.

There have been multiple sex stings, new legislation and a Sioux Falls sex trafficker was sentenced to life in prison just this week.

Several groups across the state are trying to put this issue in front of as many people as possible to hopefully bring down the number of victims.

Human sex trafficking is a problem all over the world, including right here in South Dakota.

One group that's trying to educate the state on what sex trafficking looks like is a group called The New Colossus.

"One of the things we say is, 'We just want to shine a light on it.' Because once you see it, you're never going to be able to unsee it," co-founder Polly Dean said. 

Dean is one of three women who make up The New Colossus. The group speaks to churches, work groups and really anyone who will listen to educate the public about sex trafficking.

They use documentaries and their own life experiences to show people the reality of sex trade around the world.

"It looks completely different because it's almost like we don't have a problem when it's not in your face. So it's almost a bigger issue here because we aren't really looking at it," Dean said. 

A national non-profit that studies sex trafficking, the Polaris Project, ranks each state's sex trafficking laws on a four-tier system.

In 2012, there were four states in the lowest tier. This past year, South Dakota was the only state still at that level.

"South Dakota unfortunately, on the tier system, is the lowest in the nation. So our state laws probably really do need to be examined to see where we can fill in some holes for those victims. See what would help us with prosecuting. And give us some more tools in our tool box," U.S. Representative Kristi Noem said. 

Noem has some ideas and legislation in motion to get South Dakota out of the bottom. She says the state needs firm Safe Harbor laws to protect victims once they get off the streets.

"It's very difficult for some of these victims to get jobs after they've come out. If they have a crime of prostitution on their background. If they have something that would come up during a job search, it makes it very difficult for them to be able to provide for their families or to try and get that job that they need to move forward," Noem said. 

Three sex trafficking bills were presented to lawmakers in Pierre this legislative season. While only one was passed, The New Colossus members believe it's just the first step in a much bigger picture.

"We're learning. We're learning the correct verbiage to use. And even though those bills didn't pass, all those people who heard about the bill now know and then next year when we come back, it won't be such a shocker of a bill," Dean said.

Dean says someday she would like to get involved with the school district to teach kids about the dangers of human trafficking.

"Traffickers prey on vulnerability. So if there is a vulnerable population, say on Facebook, someone who seems like they're going through a rough time. Or there's a girl at the mall who maybe seems sad. They try to look for that," Dean said. 

Noem agrees protecting kids from falling victim to these crimes is one of the biggest hurdles they face while trying to stomp out sex trafficking.

"Over 300,000 children in our nation that this is happening to, and when you think about girls that are 12, 13 years old being victimized right here in the state of South Dakota. You know that's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.  That we really have to wonder and question, 'Are we getting enough done fast enough?'  Because obviously, the best thing we can do is prevent any more victims," Noem said.

"This isn't a situation where you can just go grab a girl and save her. Or grab a boy and save him. That's not going to happen. All that's going to help is talking about it. And so if we have one person sign up for our newsletter. If we have one person book another educational event, then that's another home run for us. Because then someone's talking about it," Dean said.

You can book The New Colossus to speak for your group by going to their website. 

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