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Human trafficking awareness group focusing on public recognition

T-R PHOTO BY EMILY BARSKE L.A.S.T. Watch (Labor and Sex Trafficking), Marshalltown’s human trafficking watchdog group, has partnered with the Marshalltown Police Department and Marshall County Sheriff’s Office to release a new awareness card, for distribution to local businesses in Marshall County, particularly in the hotel/motel, fast food and gas station industries.

A local group is working to help the public recognize signs of human trafficking.

L.A.S.T. Watch (Labor and Sex Trafficking), Marshalltown’s human trafficking watchdog group, has partnered with the Marshalltown Police Department and Marshall County Sheriff’s Office to release a new awareness card for distribution to local businesses in Marshall County.

L.A.S.T. Watch Chairperson Lynne Carroll said the group has earmarked 47 local businesses in which to give the card and accompanying letter to in the hotel/motel, fast food and gas station industries.

The card’s objectives are to train employees working with the public to see signs of human trafficking in victims and perpetrators and to provide guidance of what to do when human trafficking is suspected.

“Members of our group are delivering the packet (the card and the letter) to those 47 different businesses instead of mailing, so we can have a conversation about it,” Carroll said.

She noted how the card is an efficient way to provide this information.

“A couple of years ago we had face to face training for hotel/motel managers, but of course not everyone attended, and we know there is change and turnover in staff,” Carroll said. “How often could we offer this type of training? So I thought a training card would be good for staff and be a resource for every new person coming on board. We want managers to implement this as part of their training for staff and to also use it as an ongoing resource — that is why we are laminating the cards.”

Information on the card was compiled by Marshalltown Police Lt. Tricia Thein.

“The Marshalltown Police Department wants to take an active role in providing vital information to those on the front lines in the community — staff at gas stations, hotels, motels, casinos, restaurants, etc,” Thein said. “It is important to recognize that not every victim will identify as a victim and reach out for help. In fact, they may be resistant to attempts to help them. This is one reason why it is so critical for people to refer all information to the police, as we have the ability, through networking, to follow up on these cases across different jurisdictions.”

Sheriff Steve Hoffman said his department is glad to partner with L.A.S.T. Watch and local police to educate the public about reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement through the “see something, say something” model.

“As sheriff, I certainly endorse L.A.S.T. Watch where working with other community programs such as Crime Stoppers and our own agency outreach, hopefully we will reach that one person who will make a difference,” he said.

Carroll said she hopes to have the card distributed to other businesses in the area and contact the corporate offices of chain stores to help broaden the scope of the card’s reach.

“We have not heard of other groups like us around the country doing this card. This is a brand new thing,” she said. “This is really a local activity from this group, and it might go bigger than Marshall County as time goes by.”

To learn more about the card, and to obtain copies of it, contact MPD Chief Michael Tupper at mtupper@ci.marshalltown.ia.us.

Tupper, who is also a member of L.A.S.T. Watch, supports the project and appreciates the community collaboration.

“This is an important public safety issue,” he said.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or

sjordan@timesrepublican.com

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