On Monday, September 26th we held a community screening of Sex+Money in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the Avera Education Center. There were a lot of graduate students from the Masters of Social Work Program at University of South Dakota, so it was a crowd that will most likely come into contact with the most vulnerable populations of their communities. The panel after the film included South Dakota Senator Joni Cutler, the main sponsor of the Senate Bill that made human trafficking a crime in South Dakota; Elizabeth Talbot, the Director of the Masters of Social Work program at University of South Dakota, who has spent many years of her life researching human trafficking; Ashley, a representative of Be Free Ministries, an organization that works with victims of trafficking in the Sioux Falls area; and Chris Mathew, the Director of Program Development for The GOD’S CHILD Project and its human trafficking program, The Institute for Trafficked, Exploited, & Missing Persons (ITEMP). While many people might disregard South Dakota when thinking of sex trafficking, panelists reminded the audience that even in their rural state, sex trafficking is still a serious issue. With the tourism generated by hunting, and the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, not to mention the constant flow of homeless/runaway youth passing through on Interstate 90, unfortunately sex trafficking is flourishing in South Dakota.
(Panel discussion in Sioux Falls, SD.)
Even though in the last year South Dakota passed legislation to make human trafficking illegal, they had difficulty in passing a more specific Safe Harbor law that would have identified any prostituted person under 16 years of age as a victim, rather than a criminal. Mathew noted how even if Safe Harbor laws were passed, as it stands now there would not be enough services in place (basic necessities like shelter and beds…) to care for the victims. He went on to say that the Midwest and Plains states are in need of more groups like Be Free Ministries, who make themselves available for those who might escape from lives of commercial sexual exploitation.
(Panel Discussion at University of Nebraska.)
On Friday September 30th, we shared our film at University of Nebraska as part of The 2011 Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking that ran from September 29th through October 1st. After the film, the panel included many of the same people who served on the panel at Iowa State University a few weeks before: US Attorney Stephen Patrick O’Meara, Detective John Focht from Council Bluffs Police Department, and an FBI Special Agent. Additionally we were honored to have Siddharth Kara sit in on the panel. With 11 years (and counting) of self-financed research on global human trafficking, Mr. Kara is the first Fellow on Human Trafficking at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He has also authored Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Day Slavery, and is in the process of writing another book on similar subject matter. Mr. Kara shares his knowledge throughout our film, and his insight has been extremely helpful, as he is a strong believer in the necessity of creating an informed abolitionist movement.
In the discussion, it was clear that even though there is a constant need for greater cohesion in the anti-trafficking movement, US Attorney O’Meara, Detective Focht, and the Special Agent showed at least a glimpse of what can happen in our country when groups of committed individuals work together to stamp out exploitation in our communities. Regarding the different forces that would motivate the profiteers behind sex trafficking, Mr. Kara said, “It’s a very compelling economic opportunity with very little risk involved with it.” Furthermore, Kara called for our law enforcement to “bring cost and risk to bear against the offenders.”
(The Badlands in South Dakota.)
Over the weekend, as we headed towards Bozeman, Montana for an event at Montana State University on Monday, we were blessed to pass through the beautiful country in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We made some quick stops at Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Old Faithful, and observed different animals we saw along the roads within Yellowstone. It would have been great to explore the beautiful reserve of land and wildlife more extensively, but we’ll just need to return for more sightseeing when we aren’t under the constraints of a tight schedule.
(The bus at Mt. Rushmore.)
(Wildlife in the Badlands of South Dakota.)
(A hot spring near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.)
(Buffalo stare down.)
By the time Monday, October 3rd, came around, it was time to screen the film at Montana State University, in partnership with the Amnesty International student group on their campus. After the film, the narrators (this author included) all served on a panel to field audience questions about trafficking. Many of our past panel experiences have felt awkward; but thankfully, Monday’s panel was significantly more natural. Though we still feel like we have a lot to learn, we were confident in passing along the information, stories, and concepts that have helped us in our own personal journeys of learning how to combat sex trafficking in the US.
(Autumn, Tim, Sarah-Jo, Scott, and Morgan serving on the panel at Montana State University in Bozeman.)
On Tuesday, October 4th, we drove a ways up the road from Bozeman to show the film at Meadow View Community Church in Missoula, Montana. The church is already aware of domestic minor sex trafficking, as they’ve partnered with Pat McCollough, the former President of the restoration home highlighted in our film, Streetlight Phoenix. Meadow View had already heard information and stories from Mr. McCollough, and other former victims who have come to speak at the church with him; so in a way our film served as a supplement to what they already know of this challenge in our country. Talking to members of the congregation, it was burdensome to hear the stories of past abuses (as we hear with most groups,) but it was uplifting to hear how even formerly-hurting people in their church are learning to move on to a place of reaching out and helping others in their area who are still desperate to have their own stories salvaged.
(Isaac Gill and Jasen Chung at Meadow View Community Church in Missoula, MT.)
Our team is currently in Portland, as we’ve had screenings in Bend and Portland over the last two days. We’re doing our best to enjoy the little bit of time we have in the Northwest before heading towards Boise for our screenings there at the beginning of next week.
All photos by Samuel Taipale.Read More