Beyond the Cages: Sex Trafficking in South Dakota

By Roetzel, Lara; Petro, Tifanie et al. | South Dakota Law Review, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Cages: Sex Trafficking in South Dakota


Roetzel, Lara, Petro, Tifanie, Ramstad, Erica, South Dakota Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

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. …

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