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We must fight back against sex trafficking

July 2, 2017
In The News

Sex trafficking is a serious problem we must address now.

On issues like the budget, trade agreements or tax breaks, reasonable people can agree to disagree in good faith. But some topics bring people together because it is so wrong.

Sex trafficking is one of those issues.

For those unaware of this growing epidemic, sex trafficking is when young girls are coerced or deceived into joining the sex trade. The sex trade can range from street prostitution to dark dens where the women are trapped in brothels that double as prisons. These women are used as objects and left hopeless while others profit off their misery.

Many people view sex trafficking as an overseas problem for remote, dark parts of the world. Some would ask, “Is this really a problem here in Missouri?” The short answer, sadly, is yes.

A February news report from KSPR introduced Missouri to a woman who chose to go by “Jane” to protect her identity. Jane tells her story of how she was held and raped in a North Springfield home. She explains that she tried to escape but was locked in, and says she witnessed two underage girls chained to the wall. In terrifying detail, she tells how armed men threatened her life. One day, she managed to find a cell phone to call for help and was able to escape.

“I want people to know this is real and it happens in our town and it happens every day,” Jane said.

The epidemic has hit home.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that as of 2016 Missouri ranked 17th in the nation in reported human trafficking cases with many of those cases involving minors. Missourians can agree that sex trafficking is not only a horrible practice, but also that something must be done as soon as possible. No one wants their child to be caught up in the terrible — and sadly, growing — sex trade. Because we have this common cause, I have introduced a new bill to get to the root of the problem stop the real problem behind trafficking: The demand.

The Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Act will open up more Department of Justice grant funding so law enforcement can fight sex trafficking on the demand side, arresting the men buying sex from abused women who are often underage and held captive.

Patrick Trueman, president and chief executive officer of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, calls sex trafficking in America a “crisis.”

″(Sex trafficking) occurs every day in rich and poor neighborhoods, online and offline,” Trueman said. “However, this devastating social problem has a shockingly simple solution: If men stopped buying sex, sex trafficking would disappear.

“Unfortunately, our culture of rampant sexual objectification and consumption provokes the very behaviors that fuel the commercial sex trade, and too often society normalizes and glorifies the men who buy sex,” Trueman added. “In contrast, it is vital to encourage programs that directly confront the demand side of sex trafficking if we are to ever achieve meaningful progress in the fight for a world free from sexploitation.”

Trueman is right, and we’ve been dancing around the issue too long. It is time we stepped up and targeted the individuals who pay to use these abused women. You know a system is broken when the victimized women are arrested while the men buying the sex too often go free.

The only practices for combating prostitution and sex trafficking demonstrated to be effective are those that include combating demand. A key way this can happen is reverse stings, both online and in person. Police officers can pose as women engaged in street-level prostitution to capture buyers in the act. Authorities can also place decoy advertisements online and set up reverse stings at a hotel or apartment. But these stings require resources. My legislation opens up additional channels to these resources to fight sex trafficking demand by expanding access to Byrne Jag grants to include sex trafficking. It’s time to empower law enforcement with the resources they are asking for to solve this problem.

We are better than this.

I am also working on a second bill to expand grant opportunities to provide housing for women who have been victims of sex trafficking. While it is crucial that we address the problem, we also must be on the other side to help women who have escaped trafficking to heal, recover, and build new lives.

My bill adds sex trafficking victims as an authorized recipient of transitional housing assistance grants. The grant money is also used for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. This legislation opens up a new avenue of funding for sex trafficking victims so they can have a new start.

Fighting sex trafficking is an idea all Missourians can rally behind. It’s time to raise awareness and pass legislation like mine both to fight the problem and help the victims recover. Reversing this national and human travesty must begin now.