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“Are you safe”, “Do you need our help” signs popping up in Iowa bathrooms

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) — An Iowa newspaper employee recently helped save a woman trapped in a sex trafficking ring.

According to court documents, A Des Moines register delivery worked helped a woman to safety after she flagged the delivery driver down on the side of the road.

In that case, a 25-year-old East Dubuque Woman was arrested and charged with pimping.

Mercy Cedar Rapids’ Anti-Human Trafficking expert, Teresa Davidson, says that goes to show trafficking doesn’t always look how you’d expect it to be. That’s why the community needs to be alert.

One Cedar Rapids bar is making their own effort to be aware, especially as it’s located between Mount Mercy and Coe College.

At MOCO Game Bar located at 1600 E Ave NE, you’ll find this sign in the woman’s restroom.

“Ladies are you in an uncomfortable situation, do you need our help?,” explained General Manager, Kenyon Thorp. The sign lists a code word drink, unique to MOCO, that customers can order to alert the bartender they’re in need of help.

It’s a subtle way to alert the staff and get assistance, no matter what they’re situation may be.

“Suddenly we know, wait a minute she’s in an uncomfortable situation. So it’s absolutely targeted to take advantage of that moment when her harasser or whoever it is is trying to keep the drinks flowing,” said Thorp.

It’s that same awareness that Teresa Davidson, also President of Chains Interrupted, is promoting for hotel, motel workers.

“We know about 70-90% of human trafficking occurs in hotels and motels,” said Davidson.

She’s also advocating to get more Freedom Stickers, that read “Are you safe” in bathrooms across the state. The stickers are part of an In Our Backyard campaign. They’re in about 20,000 bathrooms across all 50 states. The organization is also working to get convenience store employees trained to help trafficking victims.

“Put them in every bathroom in every hotel in every convenience store, in every grocery store,” said Davidson.

Human and sex trafficking can be hard to spot, demonstrated in a video by Erase Child Trafficking. However, Davidson says if something feels off, take note.

“The important thing to do is to gather information. So license plate numbers are crucial, if they a convenience store person could save credit card receipt or number or contact info, anything they can get and then descriptions,” said Davidson.

Oftentimes, Human Trafficking victims are being forced, frauded, or coerced into trafficking. Davidson also says it’s a supply and demand business, which means big events like the State Fair attract this type of activity to the area.

Chains Interrupted has a list of more warning signs and language to look out for, here. 

Davidson says anyone in need of help can go to the Mercy Emergency Room for any reason, and let a nurse know. There is a whole team of staff that can help.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate. Support is provided in more than 200 languages.

*This story was updated on 8/14 to clarify that Freedom Stickers are an In Our Backyard campaign. 

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Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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