Franklin County Sherriff Steve Pelton, State Rep. Nate Tate and Mrs. U.S.A. Lauren Ziegler were the featured speakers at a forum on human trafficking Friday night, Jan. 19, at New Beginnings Lutheran Church in Pacific.

Approximately 130 people attended the event. The program began with a prayer from Pastor Joe Sullivan followed by a welcome and introductions from Alderman Steve Myers.

Mrs. U.S.A. began by presenting insights into the harsh reality of human trafficking.

“It was an absolute honor to be one of the three guest speakers . . . which was very well attended and also being streamed live over the internet,” said Ziegler.

“I thank God for opening doors like this for me to raise awareness about human trafficking in the United States,” she added. “We are simply a voice for the victims who, quite often, can’t speak for themselves.”

Ziegler said she believes that if people are aware that this travesty is taking place in Missouri and what the signs are to watch for, there is hope for victims to be rescued from their horrific nightmare.

Sheriff Pelton, a 28-year law enforcement officer, stressed the importance of citizens becoming aware of the growing epidemic of human trafficking and ways the community can watch for suspicious activity and alert law enforcement, enabling them to detect situations where a person may be being trafficked.

Pelton spoke of the increasing dangers that teens encounter from perpetrators who pose as teens and trick victims into believing and befriending them on social media sites.

“It is becoming extremely important that parents monitor their children’s internet and social media usage,” Pelton said, “especially in cases where strained relationships exist between parents and their kids.”

He gave many examples of what citizens should be mindful of to be more aware of possible threats against their children.

State Rep. Tate shared many examples of bills being presented in the Missouri Legislature, including one that was just passed in the House that will require Missouri truck stops, bus stations, hotels and other businesses to hang posters advertising the national human trafficking hotline.

Officials said Missouri is a hotspot because of its central location in the U.S. St. Louis, Springfield and Kansas City are known trafficking destinations with Interstates 44 and 70 being high-volume corridors for this illegal activity.

Businesses that would be required to hang the poster include strip clubs, hotels and motels cited as public nuisances for prostitution, airports and women’s health centers.

Lindsey Ellis, The Covering House executive director, also was at the forum with two staff members to promote their organization in St. Louis which helps rescued victims by providing room, board, therapy and educational and spiritual resources.

A collection was taken from those in attendance raising $830 benefiting The Covering House.

St. Louis recently was ranked 16th in the U.S. for human trafficking activity according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline which works closely with service providers, law enforcement and other professionals to serve victims and survivors of trafficking.