Human Trafficking and the Sturgis Rally
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors, but not all of them come for the right reasons.
Some specifically come to Rally Town for human trafficking, the commercial exploitation of an individual for sex or labor through force or coercion.
Tess Franzen says, "And where you have more people in an area, then you'll have more of a market. So, people that are selling t-shirts, or selling motorcycles, or selling cup koozies, or whatever they're selling, they know there's more of a market, so they'll bring more product in and try to exploit that market and it's the same thing with human trafficking. So, the only reason why we would imagine that human trafficking increases during the Rally is because there are more people here."
It's a sad reality that happens in every state, including right here in South Dakota.
That's why several organizations put together the Missing Child Booklet and passed it out ahead of this year's Sturgis Rally.
The book includes 47 missing children from across the country that are possibly being trafficked in our area.
Franzen says, "Human trafficking happens in every community in this country. It seems like every state has had human trafficking convictions. South Dakota has had both labor and sex trafficking convictions and it's not just girls and it's not just women. There are boys and young men and from very young ages to ages that are older than you might imagine."
That's why Tess Franzen started the West River Human Trafficking Task Force, which is now in it's fourth year.
Tess is the policy coordinator at FREE International and works to combat human trafficking and has a true passion for putting it to an end.
Franzen says, "They need someone to stand up for them, that need to say no, enough is enough. We're not going to let them be exploited, we're not going to allow this to happen, we're going to do what we can to intervene."
Since 2007 the National Human Trafficking Hotline in South Dakota received 383 calls.
In 2016, 19 human trafficking cases were reported.
Franzen says, "And our hope is that not only can they go from being victims to survivors, but they can eventually become thrivers where they are celebrating life and completely on the other side of the horrors of their past."
Tess says there's still not enough being done, though, which is why she and others are putting the pieces together to start more comprehensive services to meet the needs of victims and survivors.
She also adds that community involvement is important and encourages everyone to keep their eyes open and to report anything that doesn't look right.