COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Hundreds of people have been forced or coerced into human trafficking over the past few years in Missouri, including nearly 330 of them confirmed in 2021.
According to data collected from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 240 cases of human trafficking in 2021. Of those cases, 327 victims were involved.
The hotline received more than 1,100 signals in Missouri in 2021. Signals could include a call to the hotline, a text message, an email, online chat messages and online reports. Of those signals, 355 of them were made from victims of human trafficking.
The hotline receives tips about situations involving sex trafficking, labor trafficking, sex and labor trafficking, as well as situations where the type of trafficking may be unknown.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri Department of Transportation announced in separate press releases on Friday that they will participate in a trafficking awareness initiative this week.
Human trafficking is illegal exploitation of a person through force, fraud or coercion. Trafficking can take the forms of sexual trafficking, forced labor or domestic servitude.
Victims of sex trafficking come from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of education, experts say.
True North of Columbia is a victim advocacy group that provides aid to victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.
"They (traffickers) target individuals who have instability in their life," Lynette Dziadosz, court services manager for True North of Columbia, said. "Some may be having financial hardships, struggling with substance issues, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people of color are most effected by this. But in the end of the day, it's anyone, anywhere you look it could be one of us."
According to Diadosz, traffickers hide in plain sight. It's also a common myth that human trafficking takes place by transporting people over borders in trucks. It can happen in homes, hotels or businesses.
"Human trafficking involves all different types of people," she said. "That can be a dad trafficking a child, it can also be a partner trafficking their partner. Human traffickers look like you and I just like their victims do."
According to the Highway Patrol, signs of human trafficking may include:
- The presence of an older “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
- A child traveling with an older adult who isn’t a guardian.
- Signs of psychological coercion, such as depression, anxiety, and/or an overly submissive attitude.
- Someone having a lack of control over his/her schedule, money, and/or items proving identification.
- Physical trauma such as bruises, cuts, burns and scars.
- Poor health.
- Coached/rehearsed responses to questions.
- Substance abuse or addictions, selling drugs.
Diadosz encourages victims to reach out even if it is just to speak about their situation to somebody for guidance. According to her, the detectives involving trafficking and sex crimes in both the Columbia police department as well as the Boone County Sheriff's office are great at what they do and are here to help.
"Reach out," Diadosz said. "Reach out to law enforcement, reach out to your local organization, reach out to the national and Missouri hotline. Reaching out is the first step. What looks very simple for us, is very complicated for victims in this case."
True North has a crisis hotline available at 573-875-1370. Diadosz also encourages people to visit the True North website to find more information about the organization and the services offered.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be contacted by calling 1-888-373-7888, by texting *233733 or by visiting its website and using the chat function.