Trafficking is local, global issue

A local advocate is hoping to raise awareness of a problem that is present in Iowa and across the globe during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Joy Fopma is the Co-Director of “Wings of Refuge.” The organization aims to create a home for women rescued from sex trafficking by working with a network of other groups to rescue victims. She became aware of the issue after watching the film, “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” in Webster City.

In a interview with the Daily Freeman-Journal in Feb. 2013 before Fopma hosted a public screening of the film, she said the documentary was a shocking expos of the trafficking industry.

“I knew that human trafficking existed, I believe that it existed, but I never knew to what extent and how young the children are that are trafficked and in how many countries. It’s everywhere. It’s in Iowa,” Fopma said.

According to “Breaking Traffik,” an anti-trafficking organization based in the Quad-Cities, the average age of children who are trafficked is between 11 and 14 years old. One such child was Brittany Phillips, an Iowa native who ran away from home and was taken to a human trafficking ring in Chicago at the age of 14. She was later found by an undercover police officer, returned to her family, and now speaks about her experience to raise awareness of trafficking. Fopma said children are not only abducted in Iowa, but also trafficked through the state.

“One of the reasons Iowa is such a big problem is our interstate,” Fopma said. “I-80 and 35 across is a huge hub for traffickers because they can ship girls clear across the country through there.”

Fopma also said members of Wings of Refuge spoke to an FBI agent in Iowa last year. She said it was a quick, informal meeting to discern what the state of human trafficking in Iowa is right now.

“He said it’s happening in every area of Iowa, rural and urban. He said if he was able to spend his entire career on the human trafficking problem in Iowa, he wouldn’t even be able to keep up with the rate it’s growing at,” Fopma said.

Iowa has work to do in order to stem the tide of trafficking in the state. The organization “Shared Hope International” creates yearly report cards for each state as part of their Protected Innocence Challenge. In 2013, the group gave Iowa a “C” grade on how the state deals with trafficking. While the report notes the state’s law criminalized commercial sexual exploitation of minors, it also says victims of trafficking may be deterred from testifying due to a lack of legal rape shield protection.

For things to change, Fopma said more people have to be aware of human trafficking. She recommended that those interested in learning more look at several resources. Those include the book “Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale” by Rachel Lloyd, the “Polaris Project,” and “Exodus Cry” which can both be found online and aim to prevent trafficking and help victims. Wings of Refuge can also be found online at

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, which can be used to report trafficking, connect people with local anti-trafficking services or request training and resources, can be contacted at (888) 373-7888.