PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota law enforcement agencies plan to step up their fight against the forced prostitution of young women and children at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said law officers who will work during this year’s Aug. 5-11 rally will be trained to detect and prevent human trafficking at the event that annually draws hundreds of thousands of bikers to western South Dakota.
“Certainly the prostitution crimes are up. Part of that is during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,” Jackley said.
The annual report on crime recently issued by the attorney general’s office showed South Dakota law enforcement agencies reported 30 arrests for assisting or promoting prostitution in 2012, up from nine arrests in 2011.
“I don’t want the public to think we have this huge human trafficking situation in South Dakota. We’ve had some cases that justify the need to look at it to educate ourselves and work on prevention, and that’s the approach we’re taking,” Jackley said.
Geody VanDewater, assistant chief of the Sturgis Police Department, said officers from various agencies made about six arrests for prostitution during last year’s rally.
“Everybody thinks there’s money to be made during the rally. There are different types of people out there trying to find out how to make their buck, you know. Some of them are doing prostitution,” VanDewater said.
University of South Dakota associate professor Elizabeth Talbot, who conducts research into human trafficking, said it’s difficult to know the extent of the problem in South Dakota. The large crowds and party atmosphere associated with the motorcycle rally lend themselves to forced prostitution, she said.
“Human trafficking is a problem in South Dakota. It’s a problem everywhere,” said Talbot, director of the university’s master of social work program.
“You might be looking at someone who’s trafficked and forced to behave in certain ways and not know you’re looking at someone who’s not voluntarily participating,” she said.
Jackley declined to give details on what officers will be trained to look for, saying he doesn’t want to tip off offenders.
But Talbot said one indication of human trafficking is an older man with a much younger woman. Research indicates that the average age someone is forced into prostitution is between 12 and 18, she said.
Talbot said she’s pleased law officers are being trained to fight human trafficking because it amounts to slavery. No one knows the exact extent of the problem in South Dakota and the nation, she said.
“We really don’t know the scope of human trafficking,” Talbot said. “It might not be a large problem in South Dakota, but then it might be. We really just don’t know.”
When the 2011 South Dakota Legislature passed a law specifically outlawing human trafficking, supporters said some women had been forced to work as prostitutes during the annual motorcycle rally. Brendan Johnson, U.S. attorney for South Dakota, recently announced that a task force of local, state and federal officials will combat human trafficking in the state.
Jackley said the state is fighting human trafficking by training officers and conducting sting operations. Officials also are studying whether state laws need to be changed, but kidnapping laws can help fight human trafficking by providing sentences of up to life in prison, he said.
The attorney general also said he and his counterparts in nearly every other state are asking Congress to give states authority to prosecute people who run online sites that advertise prostitution. The law now gives jurisdiction to federal authorities, but states need authority to combat those crimes, he said.
“You can hire an adult escort service, you can buy children and other things that are contrary to South Dakota law,” Jackley said.