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Human Trafficking Awareness Month

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation declaring January as “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Month.”

Reynolds has been actively involved in this issue for four years and serves as an honorary board member for the Network Against Trafficking and Slavery.

“We must join together to prevent human trafficking and end this unspeakable crime in our state, nation and around the world,” Reynolds said. “Having more eyes and ears available in every community can help government officials, educators, social workers, hotel staff and law enforcement officers respond more effectively. We must let human trafficking victims know that we’re fighting for their freedom and a better way of life.”

Joining Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg will be Dr. George Belitsos, the board chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery. Immediately following the proclamation signing, Dr. Belitsos and Gov. Reynolds presented “Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards” to recognize five Iowans for their commitment to eradicating the crime of sex and labor trafficking. The five awardees are:

• Heather Brown — Trafficking survivor who has become a spokesperson for victims. She is now employed full-time and has her own housing and is a licensed foster parent. Brown is one of three Iowa trafficking victims featured in the documentary Gridshock. She speaks publicly about how teens are groomed and recruited by traffickers. She also shares the traffickers’ control tactics.

• Sen. Charles Grassley — Has advocated and sponsored anti-trafficking public policy legislation starting in 2003 with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and later, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 and most recently, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2018.

• Brenda Long — Founder and driving force behind the non-profit Garden Gate Ranch, providing safe housing for trafficking victims and their children. She is a passionate advocate for survivors. She has also organized four annual statewide “Eyes Wide Open” anti-trafficking conferences.

• Jim Townsend — A Des Moines business leader who has been an advocate and voice against the human trafficking industry. Upon learning of an illicit massage business operating near his Urbandale business headquarters, Townsend spearheaded efforts to pass a massage business ordinance that led to the closing of illicit businesses.

• Mark “Rocky” Vest — Founder and driving force behind Break The Cycle, an annual 200-mile bike ride to raise funds to break the cycle of sex trafficking. Since the first BTC 200 ride in 2011, more than $750,000 has been raised and donated to non-profit prevention projects, rescue services and survivor restoration programs.

“When the Network began 15 years ago, human trafficking was not recognized as a problem in Iowa. Thankfully, that has now changed and the response by Iowa communities and government agencies has greatly increased,” Belitsos said. “The Network is very grateful for the support we have seen from Gov. Reynolds. She continually places a spotlight on this horrible crime, which raises public awareness. Today, we’re asking all Iowans to learn more about trafficking, become aware that it is happening in Iowa and to report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something.”

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