It’s about to be easier for prosecutors to take on sex-trafficking cases in South Dakota.
House Bill 1118, signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on March 10, will eliminate “the need to prove the use of force, fraud or coercion in the human trafficking of minors” when prosecuting cases.
Before the bill was passed, victims of trafficking ages 16 and 17 could be prosecuted for prostitution. New York and South Dakota were the only states without such a “safe harbor” law.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Thomas Holmes, R-Minnehaha, said South Dakota is ripe for traffickers due to its lenient laws.
“Traffickers refer to South Dakota as ‘Candyland,’” Holmes said. “It’s an easy place to bring people here, it’s an easy place to traffic people. Part of it revolves around the Sturgis Bike Rally, but also around pheasant season… whenever you get a venue where there’s a lot of men coming in there could be a potential there for trafficking.”
Attorney General Marty Jackley disagrees with the Holmes’ assertion that South Dakota is a “Candyland for traffickers.”
“When you look at statistics, we have less human trafficking and solicitation of minors than other states,” Jackley said. “When you work with other Attorneys General in the area and see their caseload, it’s much more significant than South Dakota. When you say ‘Candyland,’ from the perspective of law enforcement, these are important cases, but it’s much more significant in other jurisdictions.”
Jackley said strengthening the maximum penalties will help protect minors.
“There’s an argument that the maximum sentences could be strengthened,” he said. “I always believe if there’s a particular area that is needed to protect communities, if you strengthen the criminal maximum sentences, you do two things. Number one, it’s a deterrent value. Secondly, it allows those sexual predators that prey upon children to be placed in jail longer so they are not hurting children of the public.”
HB 1118 will help ensure that justice will be served, Holmes said.
“For a minor that was trafficked, he or she had to prove in a court of law that they were forced, defrauded or coerced into trafficking,” he said. “And that’s very difficult to do if you’re 14 years of age, which is the average age of victims.”
Many times, Holmes said traffickers make their victims dependent on them by giving them drugs.
Amanda Covert, a junior studying international studies and political science at USD, interns at Call to Freedom, a nonprofit based in Sioux Falls. Call to Freedom helps transition trafficking victims back into society.
“I was looking for places to volunteer with anti-human trafficking,” she said. “I think (human trafficking) is an issue that is not widely known or known that happens in South Dakota. It’s something that I’m passionate about and it was important for me to volunteer and give back to the community in a way that is important to me.”
Becky Rasmussen, executive director of Call to Freedom, brought victims and family members to testify on HB 1118.
“We worked with victims of trafficking as well as the families of victims,” she said. “It’s not just the victims that are affected, but also their families. The family members wanted to have a voice, so we brought a father of a girl and a grandmother and mother of a young woman to help testify.”
Rasmussen said there are three types of trafficking that occur – “transit trafficking,” which involves transporting victims to different states for business, “homegrown trafficking,” which is usually carried out by friends or relations of the victim and “event trafficking,” where victims are brought in to meet demand generated by a large event.
Holmes is considering more legislation for next year to combat all types of trafficking.
“We have to provide more protection for victims, we have to provide a safe harbor like they have in Minnesota,” he said. “Someplace where they can be treated as a victim and not a criminal. When you have a 15-year-old girl, she’s not a criminal. She may have some issues, but she’s been the victim of something terrible that will scar her for the rest of her life.”
Covert said that’s exactly what Call to Freedom does for victims.
“Call to Freedom works with women to get them back into society,” Covert said. “We partner with people who have the ability to prosecute criminals and use what they know and how to use their resources.”
The best thing people can do to help combat trafficking is to get educated, Rasmussen said.
“Find out what the red flags are,” she said. “Human trafficking is happening everywhere. And we as a community need to get informed to recognize the signs. There is a national hotline where you can report trafficking. If you see young girls in a controlled environment, they might be dressed up or someone that’s with them that won’t leave their side. Call 911, call the hotline. They would want you to report it and not be something, (rather) than be something and not report it.”
Bridget Diamond-Welch teaches a criminal justice course at USD focusing on human trafficking. She said trafficking isn’t just underground organizations, it could be someone selling a family member.
“Trafficking does occur by gangs and other organized groups and they may have a more sophisticated system, but it can occur outside them,” Diamond-Welch said. “We have husbands trafficking their wives, fathers and mothers trafficking their children. You have these small, home-grown operations. Or (you) may have a man or woman that controls a particular number of prostitutes on the street.”
Many times traffickers will force their victims to perform in pornographic films and upload them to free websites.
“There is a huge overlap between porn and trafficking, prostitution and trafficking, stripping and trafficking,” Diamond-Welch said. “Any time there is sex work, a sizeable portion involved are being trafficked in some way.”
USD is hosting three events to bring awareness to human trafficking during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month:
- National Night takes place in Farber Hall on April 12 at 6 p.m. The event will show “Tricked,” a documentary on sex trafficking. Anna Kosloski from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs will lead a discussion of the film.
- State and Local Night will be held in Farber Hall on April 19 at 6 p.m. U.S. Attorney Kevin Koliner and James Legg, formally of the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigations, will discuss trafficking in South Dakota.
- International night will discuss forced marriage and sexual slavery under the ISIS. The event will take place in on April 26 at 6 p.m. in Patterson Hall, room 117. The Frontline documentary “Escaping ISIS” will be screened. Discussants will be representatives from Yazda, a nonprofit supporting the Yazidi people in the Middle East.