RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - It's an issue no one wants to think about-- one of the worst things a human being can do to another, but it's here in South Dakota.
To highlight the issue, Mayor Steve Allender declared Friday, January 24, 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
"Having a declaration to combat or to say that 'today is traffic awareness day,' it's a lot more different than us actually making a difference," said Carla Douglas, a survivor of sex trafficking.
The executive proclamation from the mayor describes human trafficking as quote "heinous assault on human dignity and a violation of a person's rights" unquote and says the city affirms the principles in the Victims of Human Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.
"It can happen at any time, in any community," said Darrell Shoemaker, the City Communication Coordinator. "It's one of those issues that knows no gender, no age, no ethnicity."
Douglas described her experience where she was not seen as a human being, but just a product to the trafficker. She said there is a long road to recovery, but she says there is hope after trauma.
Major events like the upcoming Super Bowl in Miami, and even the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, can be causes for concern .
"Those are the events where there's a heightened concern for trafficking," said Shoemaker. "There's thousands of people going to an area where they've never been before and the trafficking situation because people go there and they know peoples' vulnerabilities are more exposed."
Shoemaker says there has been "get serious attitude" in law enforcement for awhile, but community awareness is important as well.
State lawmakers are hearing a proposed bill that would augment existing human trafficking laws.
However, some think the proposed changes do not do enough. Douglas says that education paired with awareness is key.
"They need to just come out and say 'our people are not for sale anymore,'" said Douglas. "And, to the buyers, 'we're coming after you too.'"
In addition to the House Bill that would revise and solidify human trafficking laws, there is another bill that would would allow victims of human trafficking, domestic abuse, or child abuse to change their names without publication of notice or hearing in open court to protect the identities of the victims.