More people are enslaved in the United States now than in any other time in history.

That statement may be shocking but it is tragically true. Human trafficking is a $39 billion a year industry worldwide. It brings in $15-25 billion in the United States.  It is big business.

Iowa is not just a pass through state when it comes to human trafficking.

Any event that brings people together, including State Fair, Farm Progress Days, and Boys State Basketball Championships will include children being trafficked in to be sold.

People in Iowa are working to change that.

St. Petri Lutheran in Story City recently hosted a workshop on how we can change that.  Story City is just off Interstate Highway 35,t hrough which hundreds of children are brought in and out to be sold, raped and abused.
The workshop was led by Michael Ferjak, Iowa Department of Justice Human Trafficking Enforcement and Prosecution Initiative (HTEPI) known as “Operation Detour”.

The goal is to make Iowa the most hostile state in the country for traffickers.

“This involves more than law enforcement,” Ferjak notes.  “It is a community issue.  It is when people in the community get involved that things begin to change.”
“The problem of trafficking has already been raised in this community,” remarked Scott Johnson, Pastor of host congregation St. Petri.
“Tonight we learned ways to put plans into concrete action so that we can do our part to make Iowa inhospitable to traffickers.”
In order to be helpful we have to let go of some of the myths and stereotypes we have about trafficking.  Girls, boys, men and women are trafficked and sold for sexual abuse.
They did not choose to be abused.  They are trapped in this world, coerced, beaten, manipulated and imprisoned.  They come from all walks of life.
Although people of all ages are trafficked, underage girls are the most common.

The average age girls are when they are trafficked is 11-14.

Although some of these youths are kidnapped, and these stories are what make headlines, the vast majority of trafficked minors are runaways who were abused at home.
Many are youth who were kicked out of their homes for being gay or trans-gendered.

4200 youth are missing in Iowa each year.  Three-fourths of these children will end up in sex trafficking.

The average lifespan is seven years after first being trafficked.  The victim may end up murdered, commit suicide, or die of drug overdose or from lack of medical care.
Pastor Mark Anderson, Assistant to the Bishop, works with youth ministry in the Northeastern Iowa Synod.  He observes,

“We can’t say we care about youth ministry unless we are doing something about slavery of youth in Iowa.”

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself.  (See Resources Below)
  • Do not support prostitution or pornography.
  • Call or write to your congressional leaders, urging them to take a strong stand on anti-trafficking and protection for survivors.

 See something.  Say something.

Look for these signs:

  •              Evidence of being controlled
  •              Inability to move or leave jobs
  •              Signs of physical abuse
  •              Fear or depression
  •              No forms of identification


If you see something suspicious, do not approach or intervene.  You can make it worse for the victim and put yourself in danger.
  • Pay close attention to what you see.
  • Call 911 & tell them what you see.
  • Report details, license plates and physical appearance.
  • After you call 911, call the National Trafficking Hotline1-888-373-7888 and report what you see.
Let’s start with Iowa and then neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, state by state, make human trafficking impossible.



Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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