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Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery
Diocesan conference to raise awareness about problem

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

When one thinks of human trafficking, images of faraway countries often come to mind. But organizers of an upcoming conference say the problem is closer to home than you might realize.

Human Trafficking – Modern Day Slavery, a conference focused on human trafficking in our communities, will be held June 17 at the St. Francis Center of Briar Cliff University in Sioux City.

The conference, which is organized and sponsored by the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission in conjunction with the Diocese of Sioux City, Briar Cliff University and Mercy Child Advocacy Center, will begin at 9 a.m. with registration.

The first talk will be presented at 9:30 a.m. and the day will conclude about 3:30 p.m.

Rosemary Paulsen, chair of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, said the target audience is law enforcement, judicial and social work departments and hospital staff - especially ER staff. Teachers, motel owners, business owners, clergy, faith communities and the general public – anyone interested in this topic - is encouraged to attend. 

“All people need to be aware that this is a real problem, even in Iowa,” stressed Paulsen. “This is a $32 billion business and is tied in with drugs. Twenty-seven million people are in modern day slavery around the world. One million children are exploited by the international sex trade.”

She noted that one out of five pornographic images are of children with 100,000 websites offering child pornography here in the United States. 

Bernadette Rixner, secretary for the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, said the sex trade is the second biggest money maker after drugs.

“But as people of faith, we also need to look at those who are using these girls,” she said. “If there wasn’t the demand, the people wouldn’t be there.”

Problem increasing

“The problem of human trafficking is becoming more and more apparent,” said Rixner, who noted that Pope Francis frequently refers to human trafficking in his statements and messages.

The pope has said he is distressed by the situation.

"How I wish that all of us would hear God's cry: 'Where is your brother?'(Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. This issue involves everyone,” said Pope Francis. “This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity."

Rixner said Pope Francis has established a Vatican commission to address the problem.

The crime of human trafficking is increasingly being reported in Iowa. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, there has been a growth rate on pace to reach just over 71 percent between 2011 and 2013. In response, Gov. Terry Branstad last month signed a bill that strengthened penalties against people engaged in human trafficking.
Paulsen had informed the Peace and Justice Commission about human trafficking and the need for the diocese to gain awareness about its potential existence here after attending ones in Ames, Davenport and Omaha.

“Trafficking is common along interstates but also happens in small towns,” she said. “Victims are forced into labor, commercial sex and may be working in restaurants, hair salons, housekeepers, escort services, etc.”

The victims can be men, women or children. Paulsen said they may be U.S. citizens or foreign nationals and explained that children are targets and especially vulnerable due to the internet. 

“People cannot keep their heads in the sand any longer,” Paulsen said. “This is happening in Iowa and may be happening next door to you.” 

Rixner, who attended the Omaha conference, said they wanted to host the conference to raise awareness.

“When we talked to people who should know about it and be able to do something to address it, they weren’t very familiar with the problem either so we felt we needed to do something,” she said.


The speakers are:  FBI Special Agent Anna Brewer, FBI Victim Specialist Kathryn Thomsen, Sioux Falls Police Lt. David Mcintire and Rixner. 

The morning session will open with prayer by Bishop Walker Nickless at 9:30 a.m., followed by a talk by Brewer and Thomsen titled Victims, Perpetrators and Consumers.

The speakers will look at the people involved in cases of human trafficking in Iowa and Nebraska.  

Following lunch at noon, Lt. Mcintire will address what the Sioux Falls Police Department is doing to reduce human trafficking and how they are increasing community awareness about the problem.

Rixner will present the final talk at 2:15 p.m. She will address what others are doing and what you can do about human trafficking. She would particularly like to provide faith communities with ideas to help combat the problem and affirm the Catholic Church’s role working to alleviate the problem.

“We are trying to include people from the entire diocesan area – all 24 counties,” she said. The peace and justice advocate acknowledged that the problem – especially sexually exploitation – exists in communities large and small.

Rixner noted that one of the first human trafficking cases in the state was in Denison and it was tied to sexual exploitation.

There will be questions after each speaker. 

Paulsen said through the conference they hope to build awareness about “how you can protect your family and how to report a suspected trafficking victim.”

Register to attend

There is no cost to attend the conference, however; there is an $8.50 cash only charge for lunch that will be available. Registrations either by mail or online are requested by June 10 so they have sufficient food and supplies available. 

Register online at: or call (712) 233-7524.  Overnight accommodations will be available for June 16 at Briar Cliff for $15 per person.  Bring your own bedding for twin bed. 

For social workers: 4 CEUs from Briar Cliff University are available at no charge.  Provide your name, address, phone and social work license number. If you are a social worker and have already registered, but didn't apply for CEUs, please re-register as that opportunity is now on the registration form at 

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