Air Date

July 17, 2023

Featured Guests

Paul D. Pate
Iowa Secretary of State

Melisa Cox
President and CEO, Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce


Sara Armstrong
Vice President and Managing Director, Federation Relations and Grassroots Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. To combat this heinous crime, public and private sectors must coordinate to raise awareness. 

Sara Armstrong, Vice President and Managing Director of Federation Relations and Grassroots Advocacy Division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, moderated a conversation with Paul D. Pate, Iowa Secretary of State, and Melissa Cox, President and CEO of the Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce, about the Iowa Businesses Against Trafficking Initiative (IBAT). 

Iowa Businesses Against Trafficking Work to Prevent Human Trafficking

In April 2021, Pate began developing a plan to address human trafficking in Iowa when he attended a lunch and learn in his hometown of Cedar Rapids. The meeting detailed some of the terrors that victims endure. There was a story about a human trafficking attempt that was thwarted by an alert employee at Cedar Rapids Airport. The employee had undergone human trafficking awareness training and recognized the signs. That meeting inspired Pate to create IBAT.

Before announcing IBAT to the public, Pate said Iowa needed to have a solid foundation of businesses and organizations already on board. The initial targets were the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Restaurant Association, and Iowa Bankers Association. These groups spread the message by encouraging their members to take part in the program.

IBAT signatories are asked to complete two tasks: “Learn Something” and “Do Something.” For the learning component, business owners educate themselves and their employees about human trafficking. The secretary of state’s office provides flyers, videos, and other informational materials to IBAT members.

For the “Do Something” component, businesses are asked to empower their employees, customers, and industry partners to help prevent human trafficking.

The Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce Joins the Fight Against Human Trafficking  

Cox’s personal passion influenced her advocacy in the fight against human trafficking. When Pate invited the Ankeny Area Chamber to be part of IBAT, signing up was a no-brainer.

Cox said when members join the Ankeny Area Chamber, they are given information about IBAT. Every business that is a member is provided with a window decal to encourage others to join. Also, the chamber holds an annual three-day festival during the summer where vendors display stickers showing that their exhibition spaces are safe areas for anyone needing help.

“We feel the responsibility to say something when we see something,” Cox emphasized. “Human trafficking happens in our community, and it is naive to think it doesn’t.”

Cox praised Pate’s leadership in leading IBAT. “Whether it’s a large corporation or a mom-and-pop store on Main Street with one employee, every business can make a difference,” said Cox.

“Something as simple as handing out a brochure or making a social media post can make a difference. It can create a ripple effect across the state.”

IBAT Coordinates Partnerships to Drive Results 

IBAT has grown from 100 members to more than 630 since its inception.

To spread this message, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office works with a large statewide organization, the Iowa Network Against Trafficking. Because of partnerships, there has been over a 60% increase in the Iowa Helpline.

Pate told a story about a young woman who was being trafficked and saw a sticker with the trafficking tip line in a convenience store bathroom. The victim told the store manager she was being trafficked, and the store owner called law enforcement. She was subsequently rescued.

“This is similar to a neighborhood watch program, and we’re encouraging citizens to do that on the trafficking side,” he said.