By Christy Porter, Managing Editor
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and while one might think that human trafficking is not an issue in rural areas such as ours, recognizing key indicators can help prevent or stop the crime and help save a life, everywhere.
“Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” – Department of Homeland Security
All ages, all ethnic groups, all genders, all social and educational backgrounds can be among the demographics of human trafficking.
Some statistics say that a majority of labor trafficked survivors come from rural areas. However both forms of human trafficking, labor and sex, should not be ignored in any community. It is important to have human trafficking conversations with those you love, based on their age and understanding ability, to help prevent it becoming a personal reality.
Critically important are awareness, education, and contributions to organizations such as shelters and halfway homes that assist in the rescue and survival of those who come from human trafficking situations.
Human trafficking in the more rural areas is most noted along interstate corridors where those participating are in transit. Transit trafficking has also happened in Texas County, according to Jeff Kinder, Troop G Public Information and Education Officer.
“We draw on our training, analyzing the whole picture, questioning behavior and requesting cooperation when there are suspicions. The scenario is often a routine stop, possibly exceeding the speed limit. A key component would be a response of a registered sex offender combined with other questionable indicators,” says Kinder.
“If a citizen would have reasonable suspicion, or something about a ‘relationship’ doesn’t feel right – call law enforcement,” Kinder advises. “There may be a possible investigation, but if all proof indicates no trafficking, no harm is done. If there is involvement in trafficking you may have helped save a life.”
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Transportation have joined forces, and with local law enforcement are working to combat this criminal enterprise. Law enforcement officers undergo specialized training to recognize human trafficking and to take proper action when it is suspected or confirmed. With the education and help of the general public, the goal is to eradicate this exploitation.
Indicators of Human Trafficking
Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking. You can also download or order the Blue Campaign indicator card, which is a small plastic card that lists common signs of trafficking and how to report the crime.
Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?
Has a child stopped attending school?
Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?
Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or whom they talk to?
Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.
The safety of the public as well as the victim is paramount. Do not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking.
To report suspected human trafficking to Federal law enforcement: 1-866-347-2423.
To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). Information is available