Task Force Begins Tackling Your Perceptions

 In Advocacy, Team Updates

Bringing folks together is no small task.

So when more than 35 providers from a cross-section of local organizations make time to collaborate, something monumental is taking place.

But that’s how important fighting human trafficking in the Sioux Falls area has become.

Under the umbrella of the East River Human Trafficking Task Force, those 35 individuals bring experience in law enforcement, criminal prosecution, victim services, substance abuse, medical expertise and advocacy for children and families to the table.

“By coming together, we can learn where there are gaps and create unifying practices,” says Becky Rasmussen, Call to Freedom’s Executive Director. “Working together will help us create a more victim-centered approach.”

One of many things that the task force is discussing is the ability to identify human trafficking victims. Because of fear and manipulation, most victims do not self-identify and feel trapped in their trafficking situation. Many have been charged with misdemeanors and felonies that have lasting repercussions on housing, employment, and the perceptions of others.

“Most victims don’t realize that they’re being trafficked, making it even more difficult for law enforcement to identify,” says Rasmussen.

Krista Heeren-Graber, a member of the task force and executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, agrees.

“Someone might be identified as a prostitute, but it’s important for law enforcement to be able to tell when they’re dealing with a trafficking victim instead,” she says. “We need more specialized services for those cases.”

As a 30-year advocate for victims of sexual assault, Heeren-Graber has seen human trafficking come to the forefront.

“There’s a great deal more awareness,” she says. “With CTF, there’s a place for victims. In the past, cases would go unaddressed because there weren’t services available.”

CTF is coordinating the task force, but Rasmussen hopes that once it’s up and running it can be transitioned to the right leadership, a goal that may be achieved sooner than later thanks to Sage Project Consultants. The company is leading task force members through a strategic planning process.

“We’re just starting to scratch the surface,” says Rasmussen. “There’s no telling what we can accomplish with such a dedicated group.”

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