State lawmakers are taking steps to toughen laws on human trafficking to not only help those trapped in the cycle but to prevent others from becoming victims.
In what is called the slave trade of the 21st century, tens of thousands of people have fallen victim to the horrific act which generates $30 billion per year on the black market.
State Rep. Nathan Tate, R-St. Clair, said he was alerted to this growing epidemic after receiving information at his office in Jefferson City and plans to begin working with other lawmakers to propose legislation to end the practices.
“We can write all the laws we want, but it’s not going to stop until we catch the people doing this,” Tate said. “The St. Louis metro region is one of the top 20 areas in the country for human trafficking.”
Tate said many of those who become involved in rings sometimes join willingly because of promises made by their eventual captors.
“They are drawn in because they want to be a part of a group,” Tate said. “In the end, all of their personal identification is erased and they can’t get out.”
One of the most chilling aspects of human trafficking involves children.
Tate said the old terrors of kidnapping ending in the child’s death have been magnified with the prospect of human trafficking.
“These children are sold into the industry, where they are tortured daily,” Tate said.
Tate has reached out to a couple of groups to gather information on human trafficking including Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, which builds software to fight human trafficking.
The organization was founded by actor Ashton Kutcher with his ex-wife Demi Moore in 2009.
In many cases, the victims are moved all over the country using major traffic corridors like Interstate 44 that runs through the heart of Franklin County.
“We know it is alive and well in the U.S but we don’t see much here,” said Sheriff Steve Pelton.
He added that deputies are trained to look for clues during a traffic stop, particularly along I-44.
“We try to train and teach them to dig a little deeper,” Pelton said.
Deputies have come across instances when illegal aliens are traveling along I-44 to be used for cheap labor. The illegal immigrants sometimes are taken advantage of because they don’t have any other options for money.
Capt. Chuck Subke has taken training with the U.S. Marshal’s office to recognize signs of trafficking.
Clues as subtle as fast food containers, or candy bar wrappers, on the floorboard of a car could indicate that the driver is in a hurry to get somewhere and is not making long stops.
According to Subke, the Missouri State Highway Patrol is training troopers in what to look for on interstates.
“In Missouri there is more emphasis in training troopers, deputies and municipalities along the interstates to teach them what to look for,” Subke added.
Truck stops can sometimes be a hot spot for trafficking.
“Truckers sometimes are transporting people,” Subke said. “It is not prevalent but every now and then we get a call.”
The most common type of trafficking in Missouri is conducted in large cities during large events, and sporting events.
Subke explained there are advertisements on websites like Craisglist.com or backpage.com featuring women from out of the area who are part of a trafficking ring. The ads are more common prior to major events.
Another form of trafficking targets illegal immigrants.
By Monte Miller | Missourian
Assistant Managing Editor Gregg Jones contributed to this article.