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Modern Day Slavery

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Modern Day Slavery

Madi Miller

Madi Miller

Madi Miller

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Human trafficking is a problem in the nation and in the Ozarks; local organizations are working to put an end to the crime.

Robbery, kidnapping and murder are all crimes that make their debut in the everyday news, but are there more than those? Is there a crime that is more ‘hidden’ in media?

“Human trafficking is the exploitation of another human being’s vulnerability for profit,” Shauna Storey, chief operations officer at the Branson office for  NightLight International said. “It always incorporates some form of force, fraud, or coercion.”

Human trafficking is a crime that is not normally associated with Springfield, but more so in countries outside of the United States. It is not something that is regularly highlighted.

Human trafficking can come in many forms such as sex trafficking, labor trafficking and more. The majority of human trafficking comes in the form of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking alone makes up 75 percent of all human trafficking, according to Polaris, a project that fights to eradicate modern slavery. All forms of trafficking consist of people who are stripped of their freedom.

“At it’s core, human trafficking is a result of key values that have dominated world culture,” Storey said. “In general, culture promotes the pursuit of financial, or other, gain at any cost. The reality is, there is demand for cheap labor, or for sexual encounters. Where there’s demand, someone can make a profit and will provide the supply. There are always vulnerable individuals who are easy targets.”

Representative Elijah Haahr is sponsoring a bill in the Missouri Legislature that would help convict the advertisers and traffickers involved in human trafficking. United States Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are partnering in a Senate investigation on sex trafficking. There are several legislative acts that have passed in the past couple of years addressing human trafficking in Missouri and in The United States Congress as well.

“Primarily young people and a lot of runaways [are at risk],” Haahr said. “Statistics show that 70 percent of runaways are approached within 72 hours by a trafficker. There’s a big, big problem and it is happening here in the Midwest. St. Louis is ranked one of the top 20 trafficking destinations in the world. It’s a real problem that we are dealing with.”

The things people post on social media create a problem, but with more and more apps evolving, there are many elements that affect the problem.

“Part of the problem [with social media] is that it makes people so much more accessible,” Haahr said. “There are anonymous messaging apps where people can be in contact with a trafficker and not even know it. We have heard a variety of stories of people who think they are talking to someone, and think they are going to a party or whatever it is, and then they’re in and drugged and taken to another location and essentially trafficked for years against their will. We have heard some of the most terrible stories of people from Missouri towns that this has happened to. Sometimes it happens in our neighborhoods and our communities.”

Human trafficking is being more and more of a problem in places inside the United States.

“If you know what to look for, you don’t have to look far to find it,” Storey said. “I think it’s challenging for people to really look at the problem. It’s uncomfortable, and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes we only hear sensationalized versions of stories, so we don’t recognize less dramatic instances when they happen. The good news is, knowledge is slowly growing. The challenge is to ensure that knowledge is accurate and complete.”

NightLight International and GO61 are two organizations that work to bring hope to victims of human trafficking and help draw those victims out.

GO61 is located in Springfield, and exists to bring a hope and a future to people who live in exploited and oppressed  situations.

“We don’t take part in the actual rescue,” Christy Gardner, community outreach specialist said. “We work with law-enforcement and federal agents to provide leads. We report cases, or cases that meet criteria for trafficking, and they follow up on the case. We also provide reports to them on cases such as when we meet with a victim of abuse, or possible trafficking.”

NightLight is located in multiple locations worldwide, but locally in Branson. NightLight works to elminiate trafficking.

“NightLight engages with the issues of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in a number of ways,” Storey said. “Locally, NightLight reaches out to victims of sex trafficking and other individuals in the sex industry in order to communicate their worth and value and to offer various forms of assistance in their rescue and restoration process. We care about the individual and provide a holistic approach to their healing and the restoration of their dignity.”

Both organizations have the vision to help the victims of human trafficking, but need help with such a task.

“People can help by becoming educated, volunteering, praying, being an advocate and donating,” Gardner said. “Serving can be done on a variety of levels.”

Volunteering is a major way to help.

“NightLight is dependent upon our network of financial supporters and volunteers,” Storey said. “We always need funding to provide better services and reach more individuals. We need volunteers to help us with various outreach programs, components of restoration, counseling, mentoring, medical care, job preparation and searching, spiritual care, life skills and even various administrative tasks.”

With trafficking not being a widely known topic, there are no concrete statistics on the number of victims in Missouri.

“The documentation on trafficking is a work in progress because a lot is not documented,” Gardner said. “There are victims who are never found, or who never speak up, there’s not enough documentation for the state of Missouri.”

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Modern Day Slavery