Around the Archdiocese

Anti-trafficking event coming to Marshalltown April 1

St. Henry Parish helps ‘LAST Watch’ fight the problem

By Laura McIntosh

Witness Correspondent

MARSHALLTOWN — Pope Francis has called human trafficking “a modern form of slavery, which violates the God-given dignity of so many of our broth­ers and sisters, and constitutes a true crime against humanity.” In recent years, a spotlight has been shone on human trafficking making it one of the wider known social justice issues of our time. Even so, many in communities across the United States have either never heard of human trafficking or don’t believe it can happen, and is happening, in their community.

LAST Watch aims to change that. LAST Labor and Sex Trafficking Watch, is an interfaith group of concerned citizens across Marshalltown and surrounding towns whose ultimate goal is to prevent trafficking from happening in their community by raising awareness through education and community events. LAST Watch started a couple of years ago when retired deacon at St. Henry Catholic Church in Marshalltown, Irv Vaske, brought the issue of human trafficking to the Social Justice Committee.

The group invited people from churches across Marshalltown to join in a collabo­ra­tive interfaith effort to stop and prevent trafficking in their community. The response was overwhelmingly positive and LAST Watch was formed. The group has hosted several successful community events, trained or coordinated training to a large number of staff and students at the Marshalltown High School and surrounding communities, participated in a round-table at the Iowa State Capitol, and has experienced successful relationships with the Central Iowa Services Network Against Human Trafficking and Teens Against Human Trafficking, a program of Youth and Shelter Services (YSS). Teens Against Human Trafficking was started a few years ago by a high school stu­dent in Ankeny, Iowa. Shannon Schott, lead program specialist with TAHT, has been actively partnering with LAST Watch to educate teachers and students in Marshall County about trafficking.

“LAST Watch has been instrumental in helping TAHT get connected in Marshall County! They are the real champions in the community that are having con­versations, raising awarenes and en­couraging people to learn more about the issue,” Schott says. “Without their sup­port, guidance and willingness to get us connected in the schools, we would be far less successful.”

With the momentum and success of prior events, LAST Watch looks to the next community awareness event on April 1. The group is hosting a dual-­documentary and presentation event at the IVCCD Orpheum Theater Center in Marshalltown to inform local residents about the dangers and realities of this modern-day slavery.

There will be two documentaries about human trafficking with multiple show times and a presentation from a survivor of trafficking, Christi Geisler, and her mom Sandra Sheth. Geisler is one of the young girls featured in the film “Any Kid Anywhere,” one of the documentaries to be shown on April 1. “Any Kid Anywhere” is a 15-
minute award-winning documentary ­that fea­tures several victims of sex trafficking in Iowa.

It was made by Braking Traffik in the Quad Cities and Emmy-­nominated filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films.

“People often connect with stories more than statistics, so it is essential that we share real stories of human trafficking in Iowa in order to shed light on the existence of this issue in our state,” Schott says. “When there is a face and a name behind the story, we are inspired and compelled to work harder to end the injustice. ‘Any Kid Anywhere’ is especially relevant because it sheds light on the fact that trafficking can thrive in smaller communities.”

Marshalltown Chief of Police Michael Tupper is actively engaged with LAST Watch and echoes Schott’s sentiments.

“We are not immune to these crimes. Local law enforcement needs an engaged public to successfully detect human trafficking crimes.” “Not My Life” is a one-hour documentary depicting the cruel and dehumanizing practices of human trafficking and modern slavery on a global scale. It’s filmed on five continents and in 10 countries in efforts to highlight a crime where 1.2 million children are exploited through forced labor, domestic servitude, sex tourism, sexual violence and child soldiering.

“Human traffickers are earning billions of dollars on the backs and in the beds of our children,” says the film’s director, Academy Award nominee Robert Bilheimer, “and yet no one knows this is happening.” “This event will heighten community awareness and bring our community together for the purpose of ending human trafficking,” says Tupper. “LAST Watch is an example of what is great about our community.

The passion LAST Watch brings to this subject exemplifies how people coming together for a common cause can make a positive difference in our community.”

The LAST Watch event will take place April 1. Showtimes start with “Any Kid Anywhere” at 1:30 p.m. and last throughout the afternoon and early evening. Christi Geisler and her mom, Sandra Sheth’s presentation will be at 1:45 p.m. Contact with questions.