Breaking the silence

Submitted photo

Becky Rasmussen, executive director of Call to Freedom, spoke in Winner on Oct. 9. The event was sponsored by Winner Resource Center for Families.

By Colton Hall 

Staff Writer

There comes a time when enough is enough.

It takes a strong person, and strong group of people to be able to stand up through feelings of fear. Esepcially when it comes to things like human trafficking.

Educating people on an issue so that they can look at it from both sides is powerful.
 That’s where the Winner Resource Center comes in.

The Winner Resource Center reached out to Call to Freedom to shed some light on the subject. The Call to Freedom is an organization that helps human trafficking victims get out of tough situations.

Becky Rasmussen, the Executive Director of Call to Freedom, and Megan Assman, the Community Navigator for Call to Freedom, teamed up to shed some light on the issue for the people in the community of Winner.

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world. It affects countless people, families, and communities. However, the biggest problem facing the issue isn’t necessarily the issue itself. It’s awareness.

Some people might not think that human trafficking is one of the bigger issues in the State of South Dakota. It may not be, but that’s not the point.

“Human Trafficking is happening in South Dakota,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a hidden crime, and until you’re trained with the correct education to be able to identify certain situations, you’re not going to see it. Three percent of victims are identified which means that 97 percent go unidentified. It is a hidden crime among communities.”

It’s not just sex trafficking, either. Rasmussen noted that since 2007, there have been more than 7800 cases of human labor trafficking in the United States. Again, not big numbers but something that is an issue that people need to be aware about.

Rasmussen also reported that over 20 million people find themselves in forced labor.

South Dakota may sound like a safe state that shouldn’t have to worry about human or sex trafficking, but being home to three of the four poor counties in the US says that South Dakota is a prime opportunity for both to occur.

“That’s a vulnerability,” Rasmussen said. “When we talk about vulnerabilities, we tend to be naive when we’re not trained. When we’re not trained and naive, that makes us vulnerable which is something that traffickers look for.”

Human traffickers don’t just pick random people off the streets. They carefully choose their victims, and make take advantage of the victims that find themselves in tough situations.

“Traffickers look for people that are homeless, that have an addiction, that are a runaway,” Rasmussen said. “They look for people that are in horrible situations. That’s when they capitalize on that. They become the answer to that person, and can control them in a way.”

After a human trafficker has a victim, it’s quite easy for them to continue to hold on to that person and control them. The hold that human traffickers have on their victims is a strong. In some cases, there seems to be no way out.

In a way, it seems to the victim that the trafficker comes across as an ally, and not the enemy. Rasmussen believes this is what makes it hard for victims to speak up.

“If’s not hard for traffickers to control the people that they’re trafficking,” Rasmussen said. “They’ll begin to control the person which ends up in a domestic violence situation. That’s part of the ‘grooming’ or ‘recruiting’ part of trafficking. They’ll begin to take that person away from their family, and they’ll build relationships with the person that they’re trafficking.”

Rasmussen and the Call to Freedom will be opening another center in Rapid City which will be the location that will deal with the areas around the Native American reservations in South Dakota. These areas house three of the four poorest counties in the United States.

“Those places are very poor, and that’s why traffickers are present,” Rasmussen said. “It became very important to be able to get a location for our Native Americans and all people in that location. As an organization, we are taking the necessary steps to continue to provide education and help to the victims in those situations.”

The Call to Freedom believes that they have made a step in the right direction towards minimizing and stopping human trafficking. This step is a small one, but Rasmussen seems poised for the road ahead.

“Federal and state funding is coming in to support this issue,” Rasmussen said. “We know that we’ve served almost 300 individuals over the course of the last three years. We also know that we’ve just scratched the surface.”

The first step in solving the problem in communities around South Dakota is relaying the knowledge and making people aware of the issue.

Knowledge about it will only seem to strength people’s stance and motivation on human trafficking moving forward.

The message surrounding Rasmussen and Call to Freedom, the message is clear.
 No more silence.

Shana Flakus, Executive Director of the Winner Resource Center for Families had this to say about the event: According to the Human Trafficking Institute, in 2018 South Dakota ranked 11th in the nation for active cases of human trafficking. Four of those defendants were convicted. Of the active criminal cases, 100 percent are sex trafficking. We often hear reports of human trafficking during large gatherings, like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally or hunting seasons as these are prime and profitable opportunities for traffickers.

For traffickers, it is about meeting the demand and using force, threats, or drugs to engage people in trafficking or exploit children to make money. 
The Winner Resource Center for Families is a non-profit victims’ services agency providing crisis intervention, victims’ rights and supportive services to survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other violent crimes since 1998. The agency serves Tripp and Gregory Counties. The Winner Resource Center and Call to Freedom worked together to talk about human trafficking about further awareness in our communities. 80 people attended the luncheon.

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