AuthorRoetzel, Lara

    If someone asked you to describe what sex trafficking looks like, how would you respond? Would you describe a cramped, dark room crowded with women shackled to beds and starving children locked in cages? Would your mind automatically replay the scene in the movie Taken where sellers paraded drugged girls in black lingerie and heels in front of buyers? (2) Would someone who has no physical restraints and seemingly consents to sex even cross your mind? Most would not consider the latter to fall into the sex trafficking arena because society and the media so often paints trafficking as chains, cages, and restraints. Because physical restraints are what we look for, we fail to recognize when sex trafficking is right in front of us - or even right next door. The girl in her mid-twenties who has nowhere else to live so she stays with her abusive boyfriend who pimps her out to his friends. (3) The depressed and suicidal pre-teen who never finishes his homework because his grandma sells him for sex to buy cigarettes and beer. The young girl with severe behavior problems because her foster father takes and shares pornographic photos of her on the Internet. The victim who shows no physical or emotional distress whatsoever because she is terrified by the threats her abuser has made. Sex trafficking is everywhere, and it rarely conforms to our picture of it.

    Often referred to as modern day slavery, human trafficking denies freedom from an estimated 24.9 million people around the world. (4) Human trafficking is legally defined as "the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or sexual acts." (5) While the 'cages' and physical restraint image commonly associated with trafficking could be accurate in some instances, more frequently, the restraints on victims are psychological. (6) As two lawyers frame it:

    [Human trafficking] is happening across the globe and it is in our backyard. It is within the products we buy and the services in our communities. It could be in the jewelry you are wearing, the shrimp you ate for dinner, the shoes on your feet, the phone in your pocket, the nanny down the street, the night janitor at work, or the landscaper in your neighborhood. It is everywhere, touching everyone in very tangible ways whether we see it or not. (7) Human trafficking is an umbrella term that encompasses all types of exploitation: forced labor, sex trafficking, child labor, commercial sexual exploitation of children, forced and child marriage, and child soldiers. (8) Sex trafficking, a subset of human trafficking and primarily the focus of this article, is defined as "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act." (9) Sex trafficking can be found in hotels, strip clubs, truck stops, or even at the house right next door.

    In South Dakota, a state of just 885,914 individuals, we take pride in our small, rural communities being safe and low-crime. (10) Recognizing that sex trafficking exists is inconceivable to many. (11) We comfort ourselves with the notion that something so awful could never happen in a state where everyone seemingly knows everyone. (12) But the drive for human consumption, whether through labor or sex trafficking, is not an unknown concept to this state, though it certainly registers differently. Despite its location in the heart of the Midwest with two major interstates running through the entirety of the state, the element of movement of humans for personal consumption is not as readily seen in South Dakota as it is in more metropolitan areas. (13)

    This article will first dispel myths about sex trafficking, specifically in South Dakota. (14) Next, this article will survey sex trafficking laws in South Dakota and address trafficking concerns during peak tourism seasons. (15) The following part will identify at-risk groups in South Dakota. (16) Finally, this article will provide an overview of the challenges in identifying trafficking victims and discuss how South Dakota has been prosecuting traffickers. (17)


    Sex trafficking is an underreported crime for various reasons. Many trafficked individuals do not define themselves as victims, and victims often face concerns with reporting because of their own illegal activities or because of the manipulative nature of the crime. (18) In many instances, male victims do not report because they believe they can cope with the issue on their own. (19) In addition to these concerns, the myths surrounding trafficking make it difficult for bystanders to identify and assist those being trafficked. Because the information the general population has on trafficking is often the result of misconceptions, they may not know "when, where, and what to look for and what to do next[,]" particularly when the victim does not outwardly ask for help, disclose her situation, or trust anyone other than her trafficker. (20) Moreover, the victim fears the consequences of speaking out, whether it is in the form of a beating or loss of a roof over her head - or, in many cases, because the perpetrator is a family member.

    Although society wants to believe that sex trafficking is a relatively new problem, it has existed for centuries. (21) In response to public outcry, legislators have pushed sex trafficking issues to the top of the agenda and implemented policies to combat it. (22) Today, while multiple forms of trafficking still exist (e.g., forced labor, child labor, child soldiers), the media generally focuses on sex trafficking because of the "shock value and attention." (23) Concerned citizens and communities often talk about "those" people who are at risk, arguing that in South Dakota, the issue only exists when tourists flock to the area or when there are major events happening, such as during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. (24) This gives the illusion that human trafficking is an activity that is brought in from outsiders instead of something that is already happening in our communities. (25) While the Rally certainly draws out individuals looking to purchase sex, the issue does not vanish after Rally festivities conclude.

    Before analyzing the problems in South Dakota, several common misconceptions about sex trafficking collectively must be addressed.

    Myth 1: "Women are most at-risk of being trafficked."

    Media outlets recently released news articles on human trafficking, warning that "it can happen to anyone." (26) This invoked fear in women across the country - and rightfully so. Women should be aware of their surroundings and take precautions against predators. But more often than a middle-class white woman and her children being followed at IKEA by suspected traffickers- an incident more likely to make the front-page news (27) - is the trafficking that goes unreported. Certain women are more at-risk of being trafficked than others, but traffickers do not discriminate based on gender or age. Men, women, boys, and girls can all be trafficked and sexually abused. (28) Those living in poverty are particularly at-risk along with children who have spent their lives in-and-out of foster care. (29)

    Myth 2: "She consented to sex. " (30)

    Society often assumes that adult prostitutes are "willing" participants and sex trafficking is the consequence of those choices. Because of this assumption, the victims, rather than their traffickers, were often fighting prostitution charges and spending time in prison. (31) In 2000, the United States government enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act "to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect their victims." (32) Despite these efforts by the federal government to treat those who are determined to be involuntary sex workers as victims, most states still fall short in this area. Without victim-centered prosecution efforts, individuals in the sex industry are more often met with the legal system and less often with rehabilitative efforts. (33) This response can cause further trauma to the victim and reduce the likelihood that she will be able to successfully leave trafficking. In addition, a criminal response leads to further victimization by creating a criminal history that hinders a victim's efforts to make positive changes. With a prostitution conviction, a victim will have difficulty obtaining employment that allows her to sufficiently support herself, and thus, the circle of dependency begins again.

    Myth 3: "It's always a stranger."

    We have always taught our children the dangers of the strange man sitting on the park bench, (34) but data confirms that true strangers perpetrate as little as seven percent of child sexual abuse. (35) To effectively protect children, parents and educators must have a different discussion with children about who predators might be. This conversation can be particularly difficult because statistics indicate that family members are the perpetrators in 34.2 percent of cases. (36) Data also shows that 93 percent of child sexual assault victims know who their abuser is, and 58.7 percent of abusers are acquaintances. (37) The belief that a trafficker is a stranger has also been a long-standing misconception in sex trafficking cases. Stories about children and women being snatched off the corner and gangs stalking victims cause concern in communities. While stranger danger does happen, in terms of sex trafficking and sexual abuse, we must consider an alternative source: a family member.


    Sex trafficking has largely been left unaddressed in South Dakota until recently. In fact, a nationwide analysis completed by the Polaris Project in 2014, grouped South Dakota, along with North Dakota, as the only two states in the tier 3 category. (38) States with a tier 3 ranking have "made...

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