Trafficking on the Radar
With the annual event drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Tess Franzen with F.R.E.E. International, a U.S. Missions ministry seeking to put an end to trafficking, knows Sturgis likely is a hot spot for luring traffickers.
Traffickers often seek a sizable market in which to exploit others and make a profit, Franzen says.
In the weeks leading up to the rally, Franzen, who currently chairs the outreach team of South Dakota’s West River Human Trafficking Task Force, joined volunteers visiting hotels, campgrounds, beauty salons, and convenience stores. They informed owners and managers about the realities of human trafficking, what to look for, and what to do in case they see something suspicious.
“This allows us to have more eyes and ears paying attention,” says Franzen, a credential AG minister. “Education provides them with a better understanding of what trafficking really is.”
The small band of dedicated individuals went to businesses armed with posters from various anti-trafficking initiatives that alert the public to the potential for trafficking, warn traffickers of potential prosecution, and let victims know there is help and hope available.
With the rally underway, Franzen also is helping distribute individual lip balms labeled with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number. The hope is that the lip balms will get into the hands of victims so they have access to the hotline number, Franzen says. Last year, a coalition group, which includes law enforcement officials and church workers, handed out nearly 20,000 lip balms during the rally.
As the EMBRACE director for F.R.E.E. International, Franzen is available to help connect victims with safe shelters, law enforcement personnel, counselors, and medical professionals.
In addition to helping provide resources to victims throughout the year, Franzen also speaks at churches and schools about how to prevent trafficking. As F.R.E.E.’s policy coordinator, she also meets with lawmakers to help get legislation passed and to review current laws.
The work Franzen has done with F.R.E.E. and local partners at the motorcycle event the past three years has created significant awareness, according to U.S. Missionary Michael Bartel, co-founder of F.R.E.E. International.
“That doesn’t just pop up out of the blue,” Bartel says. “That has to come out of relationships, consistency, and trust that Tess has been able to build over the years with her work in the state.”
Franzen says stores have grown more receptive each year to the fight.
“We’re able to build relationships with these businesses, connect with them, and be a face for the movement to abolish modern-day slavery,” Franzen says.
Pictured: Tess Franzen (second from left) is part of a group of volunteers trying to stop trafficking in Sturgis.