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Lawmakers push to ban sex trafficking advertising of minors

Lawmakers may be closer to a new tool in the fight against child sex trafficking.

Wednesday, representatives testified in support of a new bill.

Right now, Missouri law states that recruiting, harboring and enticing children into sex trafficking is illegal. And if this bill passes, it would add advertising children for sex to the definition of the crime.

Representatives Elijah Haahr and Ann Wagner testified in support of the bill, along with a dozen other people. Jessica Luebbert, a human trafficking survivor, said sex trafficking is a lot closer to home than you might think.

“I lived in Jefferson City,” Luebbert. “I’ve lived here, born and raised. And I was trafficked out of Columbia, Missouri. It was a business owner. And I was, before I knew it, I was drugged and I was in Maui.”

Luebbert became a victim of human trafficking as a minor after she saw an advertisement for a modeling job right here in Mid-Missouri.

Rep. Elijah Haar, (R)-Springfield, who is sponsoring the bill, said between 2008 and 2012, more than 100 victims were rescued from human trafficking in Cole County alone. Advertising for human trafficking in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar industry, he said.

“Nine and a half billion dollars a year nationally,” Haahr said. “The advertising alone, just from one website, which is the worst offender, is 45 million dollars a year. There’s a variety of online and low-tech ways that they advertise whether its, various apps that are on mobile phones, handing out fliers at truck stops, posting on bulletin boards.”

Rep. Haahr said the goal of this legislation is to starve out those advertisers.

Rep. Ann Wagner, (R)-MO, recently helped pass a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act and testified in support of the bill Wednesday. She said there are more than 300,000 children at risk for trafficking in the country.

“It’s a big businesses,” Wagner said. “And I hope that passing legislation like this will discourage them from being involved in this kind of business, change their business model. But if not, we are going to criminalize this activity, and people will go to jail.”

There was no opposition to the bill Wednesday.

One member of the committee, Rep. Kevin Corlew said he was in support of the bill. Organizations that testified in support of the bill included the Missouri Sheriff’s Association, the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, the Missouri Children’s Leadership Council and more.

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