Dubuque Telegraph Herald. February 16, 2022.
Editorial: Law enforcement sting breaches threat of human trafficking
When local law enforcement executed a two-day sting operation last week, arresting 11 men on prostitution charges, the news sent a ripple of surprise throughout the community.
The operation conducted by the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department, Dubuque Police Department and Iowa State Patrol involved setting up an offer for sexual services on a website frequented by people from the area. Over the course of two days, local authorities said they arrested those who showed up and offered to pay for such an encounter.
Seven of the men were Dubuque County residents. Others were from Jackson County in Iowa and Dane and Grant counties in Wisconsin.
The sting should be eye-opening to area residents. Yes, the prostitution trade is alive and well in the Dubuque area. Yes, trolling websites is a frequent way these encounters are established. Yes, websites selling sexual services also are tied to human trafficking.
Law enforcement officials long have been aware of human trafficking in this area. Infiltrating those circles and saving potential victims can be a difficult code to crack.
Stings like the one held last week send a significant message to anyone going out looking for these services that there is the potential to be caught and arrested. It also sends a message to the community, as these sites also sometimes are conduits for the selling of sexual services of minors, or of people being trafficked, or of both.
Local law enforcement officials monitor websites for messages indicative of sexual exploitation or prostitution. When 11 people are swept up in a two-day sting, that highlights the prevalence of people in the area engaging with similar messages and sites.
Those arrested responded to the ad and arranged a meeting with undercover officers at a Dubuque hotel, offering money for sexual acts, ranging from $75 to $250. Law enforcement officials believe conducting this type of investigation and making the arrests will give local people pause before engaging with similar websites.
The U.S. State Department estimates that nearly 25 million people worldwide are the victims of trafficking today. Though situations vary from rural to big-city circumstances, the power dynamic includes a person coerced to perform sex acts under threat of violence. Data from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline shows nearly 17,000 victims of human trafficking were identified in the U.S. in 2020.
The Dubuque community has already stepped up to combat human trafficking.
Just last month a local coalition and a University of Dubuque faculty member were recognized for their efforts to stop human trafficking. The Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Kim Hilby, a UD assistant professor of sociology, were among five entities recognized by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office with Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Awards.
It was Dubuque area lawmakers — with support from all the area congregations of women religious — who pushed for legislation in 2019 that urged lodging providers to voluntarily undergo training to spot signs of human trafficking. By now, local hotels either have completed or are in the process of completing that voluntary training. Those who completed the training by Jan. 1 are now certified by the state and included on a list as places for public employees to hold events or stay when traveling on government business.
All these efforts culminate to raise awareness about this dangerous web that ensnares vulnerable women and children.
Dubuque city and county law enforcement deserve credit for delving into this issue and trying to disrupt human trafficking in our area.
Des Moines Register. February 20, 2022.
Editorial: Tenants need and deserve greater protections
All Iowans deserve housing where they are treated as valued neighbors, not as means for securing handouts of public money.
Nobody would claim it’s easy for residential tenants to challenge unfair treatment from their landlords. But reporting by Lee Rood, the Register’s Reader’s Watchdog, has uncovered some egregious problems that call out for better answers than what the players involved have offered to date.
The cases involve especially vulnerable Iowans and taxpayer money, which makes government intervention in private landlord-tenant relationships easier to countenance.
Rood investigated complaints about Candle Ridge Apartments in Winterset late last year. In the course of her reporting — and particularly after the column was published in early January — she learned that people across the state, not just at Candle Ridge, were having trouble with Truverse Management, a Spencer firm that manages a few dozen apartment complexes for low-income and disabled Iowans.
The grievances were varied: Unanswered calls for appliance repairs. No response to pest infestations in a disabled resident’s unit. Eviction notices that mispresent state law. False accusations of unpaid rent, plus checks and money orders not redeemed for weeks. An air conditioner that sat broken through a sweltering summer — and then the person who repaired it splattered sludge inside a wheelchair user’s apartment.
The residents’ stories suggest that one of the few tasks Truverse carries out reliably is sending notices of rent increases, including illegal rent increases (the law permits only one increase per year).
Owners and managers are required to do better. Iowa law requires landlords to maintain “fit premises.” But they aren’t the only ones with responsibility. State agencies oversee tax credits for the types of complexes that Truverse runs, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides millions of dollars in subsidies. Federal rules require that government agencies inspect properties at least every three years and ensure they are being operated reasonably.
Truverse’s president, Brad Carlson, is an investor in federally backed tax credit projects, which results in a lower income tax liability. Several residents who have been in their apartments for years told Rood that things got worse after Truverse took over management. Some of their maintenance problems have been resolved in recent weeks, in some cases after the Register started asking Carlson questions.
Carlson acknowledged some problems but attributed them to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rood interviewed former employees, contractors and tenants and reviewed court records that described shrinking payroll, unpaid bills and reduced maintenance during the past two years.
When residents and their families didn’t get results from conversations with Carlson and other management company officials, their next move wasn’t clear, because of the hodgepodge of agencies with at least some fingers involved in the projects. Moving out is not a realistic option for many residents, at least not in a swift fashion.
The government agencies might say, accurately, that they are not directly responsible for operating the complexes, only for helping finance them. (USDA Rural Development and its manager, former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield, declined Rood’s interview request.)
But the result — with relatives and residents guessing at who might be able or willing to help them — can’t be acceptable.
An Iowa Finance Authority and Iowa Economic Development Authority spokeswoman described some planned adjustments to inspection protocols that could help. More responsiveness to complaints would be welcome.
We recommend two steps to bring attention to problems more quickly and create a clearer path for residents to get them resolved:
For apartments where the government is paying part of the rent each month, conduct annual inspections. Even that will help only so much if managers treat the window between inspections as a maintenance-optional period.
And second, when residents move in, give them one phone number and email address they can use to start the process of getting assistance with rent confusion, maintenance matters and whatever else.
Who should be on the other end of the call? Even Iowa Legal Aid and the state Attorney General’s Office have said they need time to figure out the next best steps, so imagine how the nonlawyer tenants feel. In the interest of pushing for a resolution, we’ll take a stab at this: State lawmakers should make a small appropriation increase to beef up the state ombudsman’s office. Its employees are skilled at dissecting bureaucratic barriers but can tackle only a selection of worthy dissections with current staffing.
All Iowans deserve housing where they are treated as valued neighbors. When landlords seem to see them instead as a means for securing handouts of public money, residents should at least be able to talk to somebody with the ability to help.
Quad City Times. February 19, 2022.
Editorial: Reading for the future
There’s no doubt about it: Quad-City schoolkids were hit hard by the pandemic. Over the last two years, classrooms were closed and kids had to learn online; even the return to class has been anything but normal.
We know they’ve gone through a lot, and the challenges that continue to face them are significant.
In a report card released late last year, the Illinois State Board of Education detailed steep drops in math and English language arts performance for the 2020-21 school year, along with declines in enrollment and the chances for a timely graduation.
Similarly, Iowa Department of Education figures showed a negative impact on enrollment and academic performance.
It’s pretty clear that everywhere, including the Quad-Cities, extra steps need to be taken to help school children deal with the pandemic’s fallout.
So it’s good to see United Way Quad-Cities working with our area school districts to launch the Read United QC initiative. The effort will recruit 500 volunteer readers who will be trained and then matched with 500 pre-K-3rd grade kids to read one-on-one.
The majority of the kids selected for the program, according to the United Way, are struggling readers who face many barriers.
About 180 people have signed up to be volunteer readers, the United Way said Friday. But more are needed. We encourage our readers to help out. Volunteers will need to pass a background check, complete a 60-minute training program and agree to read virtually or in-person for 30 minutes on the same day each week.
We think this is a great way to connect people with public schools, especially at a time when they need our support more than ever. Our schools are increasingly becoming the focal point of political debate, when what they really need is public backing. It also is an opportunity to reconnect people in the community to schools after more than a year of disruption, when, according to local superintendents, school sites saw far less public engagement than normal.
Most of all, though, this is a great opportunity to jumpstart reading for kids who need the help.
According to the QC Data Exchange, which collects information from Quad-City area schools, the need is apparent. There has been a significant drop in the number of 3rd graders who are reported to be reading at grade level. African-American and Hispanic students fared worse than white students.
Superintendents told us that not all the districts had the same results. But when we met with most of the area’s superintendents and officials from the United Way almost two weeks ago, they made clear that each of our students deserve the support of all of us; that no district is set apart from the rest of the Quad-Cities; that we are all in this together.
Even though we know that some districts are made up of families that are demographically different and have vastly different economic circumstances than others, we, too, believe that all matter – and that the success of each is vital to the Quad-Cities’ success.
We also know how important it is for kids to learn how to read early. Students who are proficient at an early age are far more likely to graduate. And the payoff to society from early education is immense, too. Early education programs return nearly $9 for every $1 spent.
The United Way also points to a one-on-one reading program it runs that led to improved reading performance among students who participated.
We hope Quad-Citians will enthusiastically support this effort and volunteer. Even before the pandemic, the need to improve early literacy efforts was apparent. It is more vital now.
We know the federal government has devoted significant resources to try to help schools deal with the fallout from the pandemic, and we have high hopes these funds will go a long way toward helping students who need it.
Read United QC is a way that individual Quad-Citians can pitch in to help. Superintendents we talked to said it would complement their efforts.
We’re told this initiative will continue even when this school year ends, and students will be assessed both before and after their sessions end.
We are eager to see the results. And we know that Quad-Citians, once they get the chance, will be eager to help.
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