The tragedy that is human trafficking
Posted on February 13, 2018 19:13 pm CST
By Congressman Billy Long,
Last summer, the Missouri Attorney General’s office, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other agencies raided nearly 20 local businesses and residences in the Springfield area that were suspected of being connected to human trafficking. Human trafficking is defined as using force, fraud or coercion to obtain either a type of labor or a commercial sex act. This heinous injustice happens across the globe and in the United States, and southwest Missouri is certainly not immune. That’s why my staff and I have met with numerous people and organizations at both the state and federal levels to address this issue and do what we can to stop this growing problem.
In 2016, human trafficking increased by almost 36 percent in the U.S. A growing area of concern among government and law enforcement officials is the prevalence of human trafficking ads on the internet. Last November, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which I am a member of, held a hearing on this growing problem. Unlike most hearings, this was a tough one to sit through. The panelists shared devastating stories of individuals, specifically young girls, who have been trafficked. One of my top concerns was to make sure and find out what we could do in Congress to help fight this problem. The No. 1 answer? Provide tools to break the commercial market that so many of these young girls run back to.
That’s why this Congress, both the House of Representatives and Senate, has voted on a number of bills that will accomplish this goal, some of which have been signed into law. Those bills include S. 1536, the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act and S. 1532, the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act. S. 1536 directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to increase its prevention efforts and establish an advisory committee on human trafficking, and S. 1532 allows the DOT to prevent any individual from operating a vehicle who has committed a felony involving human trafficking. I am also a co-sponsor of H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017. Under current law, websites can’t be prosecuted for content users post. H.R. 1865 would allow the federal government to prosecute and users to sue websites that knowingly allow users to post content advertising sex trafficking.
In 2016 alone, there were 135 human trafficking cases reported in Missouri, more than double the number of cases from the previous year. What’s even is worse is one of Missouri's largest cities, Kansas City, ranks No. 2 in the U.S. for domestic minor sex trafficking. It’s hard to watch the news without hearing about someone who has fallen victim to this crime. Thankfully, in Missouri, at both the state and local levels, agencies and law enforcement are taking action. The Missouri Attorney General’s office last year made Missouri the first state to prohibit businesses from using their storefronts as trafficking hubs under its consumer protection laws. Missouri also amped up its civil and criminal penalties against traffickers.
I’m proud of the work Missouri is doing to address this issue. There are resources both victims and those who want to report human trafficking can utilize. Last year, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office created an Anti-Trafficking Unit within its office. This unit not only participated in the raids last summer, but also provides training, ways to get involved and resources, such as organizations that help victims, online training and a number to call if you suspect trafficking or are a victim of this crime.
As this issue persists, I will continue to work with my colleagues as well as officials at the state and local level to ensure victims get the care they need and deserve. If you live in Missouri and are a victim or suspect human trafficking, please go to this website to file a report or call this number, 1-844-487-0492