WASHINGTON — The Washington Public Library was host to 35 guests on Tuesday during a seminar designed to teach officials what to look out for when it comes to human trafficking.
Washington Police Chief Jim Lester said the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy has the program and hosts a variety of trainings around the state. Having known the instructor from previous trainings, Lester said he requested to have the training in Washington.
The seminar, Lester said, covered a variety of topics but most specifically what human trafficking looks like. He said because the landscape is always changing, it is difficult to keep up to date unless presentations like these are attended.
On Tuesday, a mix of individuals from police officers to dispatch to school counselors were present. He said this is important because human trafficking is not just a law enforcement issue but a human issue.
“They have interaction with the potential victims so (it’s important) that they see and they are aware of the signs of human trafficking so that they can make the reports and do what they can to save those victims,” he said.
Steffani Simbric, an instructor with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, said the eight-hour training consisted of talking about ways to identify it, what it actually is and how to respond. She said many people are not aware of human trafficking and her goal is to bring awareness to help people identify it.
Simbric said human trafficking is a complicated subject because both labor and sex trafficking play into it and different ages are effected in each. Human trafficking is happening in Iowa, she said, but through this program she is hoping to start the conversation.
Xiomara Levsen, the Client Advocacy Services Coordinator with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, said sometimes people do not want to talk about trafficking because it is uncomfortable. However, that does not detract from the severity of the topic, she said. Levsen spoke to the group about trauma victims go through and how to respond.
“Some people don’t realize that everybody has a different way of responding to trauma,” she said.
Opening doors for new conversations is one reason school counselors were invited. Kathy Stender, counselor at Washington High School said she decided to attend the presentation to learn more.
Stender has a goal of setting up a presentation of her own to put on the school website and social media accounts to inform parents. She said the first step after informing people is prevention and by making it easily accessible for both students and parents, it can hopefully be prevented.
“Prevention is going to make the difference for some of these people who have no knowledge about it,” she said.