January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the state of South Dakota isn't exactly a stranger to human and sex trafficking. But the U.S. Attorney's office is fighting back.
A new law has passed in South Dakota to not only prosecute the suppliers of human trafficking, but also the Johns who are on the demand side of sex trafficking rings.
In the last seven months four more individuals have been indicted for commercial sex trafficking in Sioux Falls; leaving behind about 50 victims in the community.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says most victims are underage girls, some as young as eleven years old, who are brutalized, blackmailed, and threatened to stay in the human trafficking ring. Most of the time, Johns gain access to them through websites.
There have been no documented cases of human or sex trafficking in western South Dakota yet, but Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere says it could just be a matter of time. "I'm not going to say that we haven't had maybe a transient van or something go through with someone transporting people either for the labor industry or the sex industry that's being sought after in North Dakota," said Lamphere.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says he hopes this new law will scare people enough to keep sex trafficking out of western South Dakota. "We see crimes that are much more prevalent in South Dakota than human trafficking absolutely, but we see very few crimes that have a bigger negative impact on a community than human trafficking so while the volume is low compared to other crimes the weight, the impact is very high," said Johnson.
He also says suppliers in the commercial sex trafficking industry can end up facing life in prison. And Johns that are prosecuted are often facing ten to 15 years in prison without parole.
The new sex trafficking statute in South Dakota even reopened a case from 2011, when two Johns, were acquitted of sex trafficking. They were then found guilty of sex trafficking January 7th this year after the statute took effect.