Congresswoman Kristi Noem and the Polaris Project sponsored the Justice Against Slavery Summit Monday, February 24th in Sioux Falls at the University Center. The event was well attended by 50 people from a cross section of our community including law enforcement, clergy, advocates, survivors and para-church ministries, including the Family Heritage Alliance.
Dr. Elizabeth Talbot was the MC. She has done extensive research on trafficking covering first responders to caregiving.
Paul Niedringhaus from the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office shared that they are networking with other groups and together with the Junior League they have started a task force aimed at Junior and Senior High students who are being targeted. They are taking the approach of educating students and parents to recognize the vulnerabilities that perpetrators take in singling out their victims.
Kerry Stephenson from Mita Maske Tiki (My Sister Friend’s House) was courageous in sharing her heart from the perspective of being a survivor. She rarely talks about her experience due to her vulnerability as her perpetrator is still out in society. She encourages victims and survivors to keep a strong heart as vulnerability amongst those targeted leads down a path to drugs, alcohol, shame, guilt and lifelong threats.
Kimberly Kaveny from Be Free Ministries does aftercare. 50% of their survivors are from reservations. She stated that perpetrators look for these vulnerabilities: poverty, prejudice, sexually abused, violent, low self-esteem, cultural genocide and loss of culture. One third of native women are sexually abused and most often initiated by family groups. There is usually a code of silence for these victims as they want to protect their abuser due to their culture and families tend to protect their abuser because of family ties. Kimberly strongly proposes that we support leaders on the front line in helping to educate, prepare legislation and defend values within our communities.
Britanny Vanderhoof from the Polaris Project, Policy Counsel in Washington DC provides services to victims of trafficking and operates the National Hotline. They have received one hundred thousand calls from those either wanting services or information. She stated that 80 to 99% of children who had been trafficked were involved with the Child Welfare System. The Polaris Project is also involved with Policy Making. On a state level we need to motivate our state legislators to work on 12 laws that states can activate regarding what we can do to prosecute and provide a uniform law language. One active bill is referred to as Vacating Convictions which is pending. It is a factual finding of innocence bill which would remove the felony charges against the victim. These charges are what prevents many survivors from getting out of trafficking. The Polaris Project will help in providing the language and the resources to pass this bill.
- Some concluding remarks or discussion included:
- Working on legislation within our state government
- Working on Backpage, Craigs List and other advertisements which promote trafficking
- Prevention with the upcoming pipeline coming to South Dakota.
- Needed are long term care services for survivors and services for male victims.
- Hope International provides a DVD called “Chosen” which is a good educational piece.
- The Truckers Association has been an advocate in keeping their eyes open to trafficking that they see at truck stops and other locations as they travel the road.
In conclusion Congresswoman Kristi Noem shared that all ages are vulnerable to trafficking. Cases from age two to seventy have been reported. We need to increase education and raise awareness. She strongly recommends that we connect with organizations that are actively involved with trafficking and become a part of their task force. Change will happen as we take a grassroots approach and work together as a team.