A small tube of lip balm can make a life-changing difference.
That’s what volunteers headed to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this year are hoping potential human trafficking victims find. The lip balms — wrapped in paper listing a trafficking hotline number — are just one element of a multi-organization attack on sex-related crimes at the annual motorcycle rally.
The rally — which officially kicks off this weekend — brings in hundreds of thousands of people from around the country, the perfect grounds for an increased demand for buying sex, said Tifanie Petro, head of outreach and education for the West River Human Trafficking Task Force.
Polaris released national and state human trafficking data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline for 2016. In South Dakota, 19 cases of human trafficking were reported, 13 of which were sex trafficking, 3 labor trafficking and 3 unspecified.
Data from Human Trafficking Hotline.
Danielle Ferguson/Argus Leader
“(Human trafficking) is like any other business: supply and demand,” Petro said. “There is a large influx of people in our area, some maybe partaking in activities they wouldn’t on a normal Monday through Friday.”
At the 2016 Sturgis rally, eight arrests were made during a sex trafficking sting by law enforcement. Each person faced charges of attempted enticement of a minor using the internet and other charges. Since 2013, undercover stings have led to 18 arrests, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Trafficking awareness organizations throughout the state have been meeting with hospitality businesses and local law enforcement to educate about the possibility of trafficking leading up to the rally. Volunteers went to hotels, nail and hair salons to talk to workers about the potential of victims going to their businesses.
Volunteers will be on the ground at the event, connecting with rally-goers and handing out booklets with information about missing children and the lip balm.
New this year are self-defense classes hosted by Fallout Shelter Ministries from Watertown. The classes are free of charge Saturday at Crossroads Assembly of God Church in Sturgis.
The West River task force will be joined by multiple organizations, including FREE International, Native Hope, the Watertown Initiative to Prevent Sex Trafficking and more.
Call to Freedom director Becky Rasmussen said her team went to western South Dakota to talk about strategies in helping victims if they are found throughout the week.
“If there are survivors who are identified and come out of a trafficking situation, we’re there to support other organizations and what they’re doing,” she said. “We need to support those who are coming out so they are not re-victimized.”
The public can often feel overwhelmed when learning about trafficking and aren’t sure what they can do to help, Petro said. It’s as simple as notifying the right people.
“If something seems off, trust your gut,” she said. “Don’t worry about being wrong. Let us figure that out. The professionals will figure that out.”
Tess Franzen, policy coordinator of FREE International, has been working the Sturgis Rally as a trafficking advocate for about five years. She advised the public to keep an eye out for something out of the ordinary, but not to intervene.
“Attempting to intervene in an actual trafficking situation would most likely place the victim in greater danger,” she said.
Watch for anything that makes you feel uneasy, or something that doesn’t look right. Many times, it may be a young girl or girls who look fearful and nervous with older men who appear to be overly controlling, Franzen said.
NUMBERS TO CALL
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
Sturgis Police: 605-347-5070
Rapid City Police: 605-394-4133
Meade County Sheriff’s Office: 605-347-2681
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