Human trafficking seen, but hidden

“This is not something happening somewhere else, but in the very areas served by the Priests of the Sacred Heart”

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, grew up in rural South Dakota. As an adult, he ministered there. It is a place that he felt that he knew well.

Br. Duane

But in 2008 he was shocked to learn that two employers in Oacoma, a town just across the river from St. Joseph’s Indian School, had been sentenced for enslaving Filipino workers at the owner’s hotel, as well as farming them out for work in area fast food restaurants.

Br. Duane shared the story with members of the South Dakota SCJ community. In collaboration with the North American Migration Committee, he and Fr. Jan de Jong, SCJ, recently organized a presentation for the community about human trafficking in the state.

“Human trafficking is often met with surprise by people, especially those from South Dakota,” said Br. Duane.

Continuing to discuss the incident in Oacoma, he noted that “this is a town that SCJs in South Dakota know well and visit multiple times during the week.” Yet even he, a native South Dakotan, had no idea that human trafficking was taking place right at the doorstep of the Dehonian community.

“This is but one example of how immigrants and native Dakotans are trafficked to serve the tourist and Sturgis rally industries,” said Br. Duane.  “Even more, the hunting industry often exists in concert with prostitution, with brothels that open near places where hunters stay, whose workers live lives of fear, manipulation, and coercion.”

Two presenters from the Pathfinder Center spoke to the Dehonians about their work of providing shelter and protection to victims of trafficking in South Dakota. “They help and support these victims as they transition into lives with purpose, dignity, and health,” said Br. Duane. Dehonians learned about the many challenges that victims of human trafficking face in trying to escape their situation.

“This is not something happening somewhere else, but in the very areas served by the Priests of the Sacred Heart,” said Br. Duane.

Br. Duane will continue to work with the South Dakota community as they seek ways to give a Dehonian response to human trafficking.

Click on the image below to learn more about the issue on Native Hope’s website: