Coalition recognized for efforts to end human trafficking

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The Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking was among five entities recognized by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office on Thursday, January 13 with Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards. The awards were presented as part of Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“I’m very proud of the coalition,” said Sister Marilou Irons, co-chair of the coalition. “There are so many well-organized, enthusiastic, passionate women on this group. Pretty much all of us are former teachers. We know how to organize and move mountains.”

The coalition was founded in 2014 by five area congregations of women religious: Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters and Sisters of Mercy.

“Our focus is raising awareness and helping (community members) know the indicators,” said Dubuque Franciscan Sister Mary Lechtenberg, co-chair of the coalition. “It’s what we’re continuing to do with hotel employees.”

An Iowa law passed in 2020 requires hotels and motels to train employees to spot signs of human trafficking in order to be included on a list of places public employees can stay while traveling on government business. The effort was supported by all Dubuque area women religious.

Sister Mary Lechtenberg said coalition leaders hope to gain new members as they continue educating local residents about human trafficking.

“Our long-term goal is to get more and more men and women in the community to take on the leadership,” she said.