Anti-trafficking groups in South Dakota are once again taking on human trafficking during the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Groups from across the state are collaborating to make it harder for traffickers to profit from the sexual exploitation of others, and to assist victims coming out of trafficking situations.
Fighting human trafficking during the Sturgis rally requires an “all hands on deck” effort with groups from the Black Hills, Sioux Falls, Watertown, Pierre and places in between all pitching in and joining forces.
South Dakota’s West River Human Trafficking Task Force conducts awareness and education year-round, but these efforts are ramped up ahead of the rally. Hundreds of hospitality businesses have already been visited by committed members and volunteers armed with posters and educational materials.
The objective is to promote a community that is aware of the realities of human trafficking and the red flags associated with it. An informed and aware community is one where human trafficking activity is more likely to be reported to law enforcement, and where victims are more likely to be recovered.
Lip balms labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number will be distributed to key locations in the final days leading up to the rally. These lip balms can serve as a lifeline to sex trafficking victims in desperate need of escaping the bonds of slavery and finding safety and freedom.
Anti-trafficking advocates are partnering with established direct service providers in the area to help those who come out of trafficking situations. Whether they need immediate safe shelter, transportation home, medical help or basic necessities, there will be people on the ground ready to assist.
According to Becky Rasmussen, executive director at Call to Freedom, “It’s imperative that we work together to ensure responsive services to survivors of human trafficking. They deserve every opportunity to be successful and supported in their transition.” When a victim escapes trafficking, the work has just begun.
The Sturgis rally is reputed to be the second biggest human trafficking event in the country, which it may or may not be. It’s impossible to know precisely how much human trafficking happens at the rally, but it is clear that human trafficking is a very real part of the rally. Those who are being trafficked need help, and those able to help will be there.
In addition to these efforts, F.R.E.E. International will be putting together Missing Kid booklets to be distributed to various locations at the same time as the lip balms. These booklets will contain photos and information on kids who are missing from the surrounding region and a number to call if they are seen.
It is unknown whether any of the kids in the booklet are being trafficked or not, but a missing kid is a vulnerable kid. These kids need to be located and returned to their loved ones.
Everyone can be part of ending human trafficking during the rally, and year-round, by becoming familiar with the red flags and paying attention to their surroundings.
If you think you see something that doesn’t look right, or a young person that appears to be in a vulnerable or dangerous situation, please call law enforcement. If you see something that looks like it could be a human trafficking situation, don’t hesitate and don’t attempt to intervene on your own, but call local law enforcement immediately.
Tess Franzen serves as Policy Coordinator at F.R.E.E. International, which works to abolish sex and labor trafficking primarily in the U.S. She is also founder of South Dakota’s West River Human Trafficking Task Force.