It’s a problem many people don’t want to talk about, but human trafficking is real. A forum in Sioux Falls is trying to help raise awareness about the crime here in South Dakota.

According to the FBI, human trafficking is the 2nd largest criminal enterprise in the world generating an estimated $32 billion a year. It’s a crime involving 27 million victims. Sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime with as many as 300,000 children at risk. It’s happening world wide, but it’s also right here in KELOLAND.

A group of concerned citizens gather at First Lutheran Church to hear the issues surrounding sex trafficking.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeff Clapper says the victims are a wide variety of women, mostly between the ages of 14 to 42. They come from other states as well as right here in South Dakota, and most of them have one thing in common: no support system.

“They don’t have family, they’re looking for attention. They might be poor, they might be addicted to drugs or alcohol. These kind of guys know how to find women like that and prey on them,” Clapper said.

Lisa Heth is the Executive Director of the Wiconi Wawokiya. She works on the Crow Creek Reservation, and sees human trafficking victims first hand. But there is some positive news for Heth. After receiving a grant for $750,000, she was able to build a new 14 room victim shelter in the middle of the state.

“It’s very exciting. Things are starting to come together. We’re looking at working with a lot of agencies, local law enforcement, law enforcement here in Sioux Falls,” Heth said.

In Sioux Falls, the police department used to just make prostitution arrests. After some training, police are now looking at the bigger picture.

“When they’re investigating prostitution they’re trying to find women that are being trafficked and get them out of that situation,” Officer Sam Clemens said.

As for what citizens can do, they should know the signs of trafficking and turn in any suspicious activity to law enforcement.

“Things like domestic violence, things that might look like prostitution or drug deals, don’t just turn away, turn it in,” Clapper said.

A serious problem that continues to need awareness.

If you missed the event, there’s another event next Wednesday at First Lutheran Church. That event starts at 6:30.