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The Silent Crime
By Dawn Westbrook
Here in the Midwest most families enjoy farmers markets, taking solace in having a little slower pace of life, relaxing, and blocking off whole neighborhoods for block parties. We love what we call in our state “Iowa Nice” which indicates most everyone’s friendly demeanor, opening doors, letting passerby strangers have the right of way with a smile- just for the sake of common courtesy. On any normal day the last thing on our minds is a child being abducted and forced into sex trafficking. That one of our precious angels coming or going to school, or an overnight with friends could turn into a family’s living nightmare.
Des Moines, Iowa was listed in 2016 as the 9th best place to live in the United States, via U.S News, and World Report. However, seeing as there is crime in even the best places in the US to live, this doesn’t exclude our cozy laid back community. Iowa is up and coming in another area, child sex trafficking. Slowly and with the aid of the internet, unfortunately every well intended tool will be used for vile purposes in the wrong hands, and has broken the flood gates for an epidemic in the Midwest. On any given day 150 children are being sex trafficked in Iowa.
Human trafficking is a silent crime, not in the sense that authorities are unaware, but as the crime itself can go on undetected for years at times. Everyone has become aware of the term “grooming” this is when a victimizer persuades their victim by means of manipulation which could be the promise of gifts, words of adulation, praise, to create false need in the victim to eventually seek out this person. This could go on for extended periods of time before the victimizer decides that the time is right to lure their victims for their intended purposes. Predators of this nature will hone into whatever their victims weakness are and exploit them in the worst way. 
One such case August 2016, a young girl who to protect her identity had chosen to just be called “Amanda.”  She was trafficked for 5 years, a life of being sexually abused and beaten and then comforted by her “pimp.” She was sold on a media site called “Blackpage” She stated it was a daily cycle of brainwashing. Her road to recovery will never be over, but she is survivor. 
Predators are often portrayed in movies as tall lanky men, in trench coats with a menacing demeanor and unkempt appearance. This is not usually the case, they might be an older brother of your child’s playmate, or parent of a child friend, someone in the neighborhood; a familiar person. Often times predators they will work in groups with the accompaniment of a beautiful women, to give the victim a false sense of security.
In 2016, Des Moines Iowa, there was a women shopping at card shop of all places, and a pleasant enough young lady approached her and sparked a conversation and the intended victim got a “feeling” that things were off, by the personal nature of the ladies’ questioning. After discreetly tipping off store personnel, the suspect women was escorted quickly by 2 unidentified men and quickly left the scene in 2 different vehicles. The women had store personnel escort her to her car. No one was apprehended, however, it was clear what the intended purposes were.
We see movies that clench our hearts with the premise of a kidnapping, and non-stop action with a hero or heroin who has all the right military connections and up-to-speed with technology takes us on an experience of highs and lows and keeps us captivated for 2.5 hours with the end result that the bad guy gets what is coming to him and the family is reunited with their loved one and we are left with emotions of elation that justice was served… that is not reality. 

Reality is that a pimp can be someone the victim has known, or even be a relative in some cases.  Children are not bound physically, they are bound psychologically.
Traffickers have no scruples, they recruit at malls, schools, online chat rooms, social media sites, or under a false premise of dancing or modeling career. This was just such the case in August 2016 in Johnston IA. Several teen girls were lured into a Facebook chat room promising them modeling career. They were coerced into sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, and once they did, they predators threatened to disseminate the pictures if the girls didn’t continue to send more. This was luckily turned over the authorities which made local headlines and started an investigation. However, the internet is too big for any one agency and just as quickly as sites go up, predators can take them down just as fast. It’s up to us to be monitoring online activity and educating our youth especially young girls. Girls want to be told they are beautiful and socially accepted, and are easily taken in by flattering comments and false promises.
Fortunately the girls got scared and went to their parents for help, when they realized the situation. Unfortunately for many young people drug into this hopeless situation are brainwashed and manipulated until they feel no sense of self-worth or sense of identity and think there is no way out of the situation. The might be living somewhat normal lives in plain site unable to detect what they are being forced to do.
Some develop what is called Stockholm Syndrome, a bandied about term familiar to most over 30. Though what about our younger generation? The more impressionable, that haven’t maybe experienced truly nefarious individuals that would on the surface appear pleasant. This concept needs reeducated to every new generation of young people. What 20 year old knows of Ted Bundy? Does that name strike fear into your heart? For a good percentage of the population it should. For those of you too young to remember the horror of the beastly transgressions of this man, the internet can help fill in the gaps.  The point is that reeducation in every generation is necessary not redundant.
Stockholm Syndrome is where at first the captor is a beast, and after so long they become the victims only source of normality or even love their captors. There have been countless trials where the victims of sex abuse crimes, come up with excuses to protect their captors, even after years of being locked in basements and abused. No one that uses another human being for these purposes loves you. Though countless women are manipulated into believing just this. Fact, a child goes missing or abducted every 40 seconds in America, yes America. Fact, trafficker can make upwards of $150,000-$200,000 a year off selling a young girl or boy into prostitution.  Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion a year. (United Nations)

Too Close to Home
This next account might be too graphic for young readers. This is a true account of someone that is very near and dear to my heart, with young children, though after signing confidentially paperwork with local police department has asked for anonymity in this case and to protect the identity of the individuals involved, names and exact location of this event will be changed.
September 2017 in “small town  NE Iowa a mother was picking up her two boys ages 4 and 2 from a friends’ house after completing a double shift at her second job. She and friend chatted for a bit while the young boys gathered their things (as children take a while to do). Both women noticed a suspicious man in a vehicle down the road, who was not familiar to the neighborhood,
and neither was the vehicle, watching the pair. The mom picking up the children, stalled to leave hoping individual would get the hint and drive off. When this did not happen, the mom decided to leave and the care taker watched the man follow her away. After a few blocks in her mini-van with her 2 precious babies she became aware immediately that the man was following her, she called 911. She relayed that a man was following her she was scared, even though this woman had her permit to carry, she did not have any means of defending herself or her children with her at the time.
Dispatch informed her that an unmarked police car was in a gas station located 10 blocks from her location and to go straight there and wait for an officer to intervene into situation.  When she arrived she did not see the car at first and got out of her vehicle to pump gas, staling, waiting for officer. The officer however was already in the parking lot waiting for her. In the 15-30 seconds this took for her to exit vehicle and swipe her card at the gas pump, the stranger in the car, had entered the parking lot, exited his vehicle with great haste raced across the parking lot and had ripped open the door to her van and had unbuckled her 2 year olds 5 point harness, and had him lifted out of the seat, before my friend came barreling around her car and plunged her key fab into the neck of supposed kidnapper. Officers were already in pursuit were racing from an unmarked police vehicle and intervened. After other officers arrived, the man was arrested, statements were taken and paramedics did their job, she was escorted home. 
Turned out the man had warrants out for his arrest in 2 different states and 3 counties. My friend acted out of adrenaline and protectiveness, she wasn’t thinking that her commute home that she would have to be fighting someone to protect her child from getting abducted. Real life isn’t like the movies…
My blood curdled when as she relayed these events to me and I was flooded with emotion that this epidemic could hit so close to my heart to people very close to me. What would have happened if this mom hadn’t have been situationally aware? I would be on a search party right now looking for her 2 year old. I would have been spending nights awake crying, on my knees praying, and calling newspapers to keep the search alive.
Iowans should all recall the tragedy of Lyric Cook age 10, and her cousin Elizabeth Collins age 8 that went missing in July of 2012, and their bodies were not discovered for 5 months. We all felt the pain for those families. Was there a safety plan in place? Could this have been prevented? Could their abductors still be living amongst us? These questions will haunt our Iowa community. 


    



Take Action
Luck tends to favor the prepared, recently I attended the Iowa State Fair with 5 little people I love very much, ages ranged from 4-8. I took a permanent marker and penned my phone number on each of their arms (there are tattoos you can purchase that do the same thing) and gave each child my safety plan if were we to get separated. Who were they allowed to seek help from, using the buddy system, no one goes into a public restroom without an adult. I did not get weird looks, in fact the opposite, several adults commented on what a good idea that was. Even if your child knows your phone number, panic is usually the first response, always have a plan no matter where you go and make sure your children know what to do. During large events the chances of a child being kidnapped and sex trafficked increases by 5 times.  Be prepared.
Wherever we can abdicate for a stop to any violence we want to make young individuals armed. Armed with knowledge and tools to prevent situations, knowledge is power. There are a myriad of resources in surrounding communities to fight this horrific crime. Urbandale IA Police Dept offers a course for children ages 4-18 every summer, called R.A.D Kids  which offers a course in educating children that will enhance their ability and parents to utilize knowledge, skills and power to protect themselves from harm and violence, for more information call 515-331-6848. My own children have been through this course.
There is a company called Damsel in Defense, which I advocate for. This company’s mission is to Equip, Empower and Educate women and their families to be safe.   Their products include personal  protection  - stun guns, pepper sprays, kubatons, personal alarms, security on the go - car emergency kits, flash light auto  tool,  step off door alarm, conceal carry purses, and digital defense.   Their most recent line of products is called Safe Heart which is family education.   They have a parent guide  packed full of tips and guidance for parents as they navigate through safety conversations with their children about body boundaries and other topics.   The series of books helps children understand the dangers of tricky friends/people, saying no,  coercion, and more in  colorful illustrations to keep the reader interested while also educating them in a non-threatening manner to help give kids confidence to handle certain situations.   For more information go to www.mydamselpro.net/damseldarcey
We as a community are all in this fight together. Do your part to educate not only yourself but others you care about concerning this very real epidemic. Check with your local cities to see what programs are available, stay up to date with local news. Most cell phones get a mandatory text from Amber alerts, but this shouldn’t be your only resource to hear about such events. Knowledge is power, don’t let yourself or your loved ones become a statistic
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