Hoping to halt human trafficking
Human trafficking isn't a small-town issue. It doesn't happen in South Dakota. It happens in New York City or Las Vegas, but not at home.
That's the mind-set four Mitchell High School students are hoping to thwart, and based on results they've already seen from a months-long project, they're on the right track.
Seniors Brittany Robinson and Bailey Kahler, along with sophomores Regan Waddell and Kelsey Dahme, recently launched a project in conjunction with an extracurricular club, Health Occupational Students of America (HOSA), taking a deeper look at human trafficking, its effects and how to help victims.
"I think all of us had heard speakers about human trafficking, which is where our interest maybe came from," Kahler said. "It is becoming more popular in South Dakota, like at the bike rally in Sturgis is one of the biggest places for it and that's right here in South Dakota. It's becoming more of an issue and I don't think people are aware that issue is here, too."
The group began their community awareness project in December, doing extensive research on the subject. Then they began relaying the information to others, from classmates to church groups to adults in the community. They launched a Facebook page for the project, sold bracelets with plans to donate profits to a human trafficking organization, conducted surveys, created informational posters and invited in a nationally known speaker to Dakota Wesleyan University on Wednesday night to help educate people on the issue.
The speaker, Gregg Stern, from Brookings, is part of Crisis Rescue International, a foundation that rescues people in the human trafficking circuit and helps them get to safety and rehabilitation services.
Through all of their work, the group said they've learned plenty, too.
"Some of the stories we found and heard about were really amazing," Robinson said. "There was a woman who noticed the signs of human trafficking in an airport and was able to stop it, and we were actually able to get in contact with her and we're sending her one of our bracelets."
Robinson, Kahler, Waddell and Dahme will present their project at the HOSA state convention April 5 and 6, and hope to place in the top three to advance to the national competition in June in Texas.
Regardless of the state competition's outcome, though, all said the project has shown them the reality of human trafficking and they're grateful for experience they've gained.
"I think it's really opened our eyes and lot of others' eyes, too," Dahme said. "We've put a lot of work in, really above and beyond what we had to, and it's all worth it."