Human trafficking in the Heartland


Q: What should Iowans know about human trafficking?

A: As unconscionable as it may sound, 21st century slavery exists. Criminal networks are depriving the youngest and most vulnerable members of society of their freedom by targeting and entrapping children for illicit sex trafficking and forced labor. It’s happening right under our noses here in America’s Heartland.

While children, runaways and foster youth are particularly vulnerable, human trafficking victimizes people of all ages, including immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. The U.S. State Department says the top three nations of origin for human trafficking victims are the United States, Mexico and the Philippines. As former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve worked to raise public awareness and empower survivors who have suffered from forced labor or sex trafficking.

Q: What has Congress done to fight human trafficking?

A: Congress made human trafficking a federal crime 20 years ago with passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The federal law provides resources to prosecute and bring human traffickers to justice, to increase services for survivors and to beef up prevention efforts. Congress has renewed and strengthened the law several times, including several provisions I secured to provide services for human trafficking survivors, such as housing assistance, for example.


I also worked to establish new prevention, prosecution and collaboration initiatives to bring perpetrators to justice. In 2018, President Trump signed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, a bill I co-sponsored to help stop online advertising targeting minors for sex trafficking.

As a society, we can and must do more to stop criminal traffickers from robbing innocent people of their freedom and human dignity. I’ve led oversight hearings in Washington to examine enforcement and implementation of federal laws as well as a panel discussion a few years ago in Des Moines to raise public awareness and gather feedback from prosecutors, advocates and survivors to learn how we can do a better job protecting, preventing and prosecuting these heinous crimes.

A year ago, President Trump signed into law the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Reauthorization Act. I worked with lawmakers to negotiate the final legislative agreement that awards grants to local education agencies for training school staff and teaching children about the dangers of human trafficking. It also extends funding for the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The toll-free hotline is confidential and available 24/7 for potential victims.

I also encourage concerned citizens, law enforcement, airline crews, hotel staff, medical professionals and educators to use the tip line to report something that doesn’t seem right. Call (800) 373-7888 or text “BE FREE” (233733) for assistance or to report concerns. We need all eyes and ears on the ground to help bring human traffickers to justice and restore hope for survivors.

Q: What else is in store in 2020?

A: Law enforcement agencies have identified that criminals, terrorists and human traffickers hide behind legal businesses to launder their profits and facilitate criminal activity. One study identified the United States as the easiest place in the world for terrorists and criminals to open a shell company and launder their money with impunity. It’s difficult for law enforcement to root out wrongdoers when they are able to operate anonymously under the structure of a shell company.

Public policy needs to stay a step ahead of human traffickers. That’s why I’m co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to require disclosure about business ownership to provide law enforcement with stronger tools to find human traffickers and hold criminals accountable. The True Incorporation Transparency for Law Enforcement Act, or “TITLE Act,” would increase corporate transparency and ownership reporting requirements to allow law enforcement to track down crime rings.

As Iowa’s U.S. Senator, I will continue leveraging my leadership to combat human trafficking. As Senate president pro tempore, I recommended Iowan Teresa Davidson, a nurse practitioner and anti-human trafficking coordinator at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, to serve on the Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking and help shape federal policy. President Trump accepted my recommendation and appointed her to a two-year term in October.


I encourage Iowans to be vigilant. Have conversations with your family, neighbors and kids to raise awareness. It may help prevent a loved one from getting swept up in this wretched crime.

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