Over the past four years, three people have received life sentences from human trafficking convictions in South Dakota. It's why officials with the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services and other national non-profits are converging on Sioux Falls this week to discuss ways to combat a clear and present threat.
"To have a discussion about strategies that we've pursued here in South Dakota and also to work with community members so that parents know about some of the dangers out there," U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said.
The next three days of panels, speeches and open dialogue will focus on how to tackle the human trafficking concerns not just here, but everywhere else in the country.
"This happens everywhere, but the fact of the matter is that I think our local law enforcement, our state law enforcement and federal law enforcement are better at finding these cases," Johnson said.
Johnson feels that even with the great work of law enforcement, it is the victims in these cases that can make the most difference, which is why speakers like Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour and Penn State Victim Number 1 will share why it's important to have a strong voice.
"You are a victim, you're not a criminal, and we want folks to come forward with their story and to have the courage to share their story with us not only so we can get them the services they need to get their life back together, but also so we can bring the perpetrators to justice," Johnson said.
That message is starting to work, and Johnson says that with more events like this week's human trafficking conference, more and more people will pay for their crimes.
"You don't want to do this in South Dakota because if you do, you're going to be getting a longer sentence in our state than you will in just about any other state in the country," Johnson said.
The event starts Tuesday morning at 8:30 at the Washington Pavilion. Elizabeth Smart-Gilmor is scheduled to speak with the audience Wednesday afternoon and Penn State Victim Number 1 will speak Thursday morning.