Missouri AG Hawley launches human trafficking task force
ST. LOUIS - Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is going on offense when it comes to human trafficking in Missouri following the launch of his new anti-trafficking task force and regulations on Monday.
The regulations which will fall under Missouri's consumer protection laws, will prohibit the use of businesses as "fronts" for trafficking, make debt bondage illegal and provide for new civil and criminal penalties on traffickers.
Reinforcing these new regulations will be a statewide human trafficking task force which will include law enforcement officials, local prosecutors, social-service providers, victims' advocates and individual human-trafficking survivors.
"This is the message I have for the traffickers. Do not come to our state. Do not prey upon our children. Do not commit your crimes here. If you do we will find you out and we will prosecute you," Hawley said.
Hawley said funding for the initiative would come from the Attorney General office's consumer protection funds.
"We prosecute numerous consumer protection cases every year and under the law the money that we get in those cases is devoted back to consumer protection efforts," Hawley said.
Katie Rhoades, Executive Director of Healing Action, an organization that works to combat sexual violence, and human trafficking survivor herself, is a member of the new task force.
"We have heard politicians take about this issue. There's been task force after task force and it's missed the action piece," Rhoades said. "We [organization] are very excited to be a part of the task force and to have a voice and to have survivor voices at the table when looking at changing these policies or looking at how we provide victim services."
During his announcement Hawley referenced the FBI investigation of sex trafficking at Columbia home that was linked to a case in which a underage Wisconsin girl was being held against her will after being hired as a prostitute in the summer of 2016.
"This just shows this is a problem that is statewide and it's not confined to just the major cities. You know it happens right in middle Missouri. It happens all over the state. So this is a problem that knows no boundaries and that is why we need a statewide solution to it," he said.
Hawley is also calling upon the state's house of representatives to avoid making any funding cuts to the states' consumer protection funds, as the state budget moves to be finalized at the capitol.
"Don't cut consumer protection funding for the most vulnerable people in our state," he said. "These are the first regulations of their kind in the country. We look forward to being a leader on this issue and we call on the legislature to join us in this fight, don't obstruct us, join us in this fight."
The roster for the task force is as follows:
- Ben Butler, Cass County Prosecuting Attorney
- Kelly King, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney
- Jason Lamb, Executive Director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services
- Tim Lohmar, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney
- Bob McCulloch, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney
- Dan Patterson, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney
- Catherine Vannier, Domestic Violence Resource Prosecutor, Missouri Office of Prosecution Services
- Eric Zahnd, Platte County Prosecuting Attorney
- Chief Chris Connally, St. Joseph Police Department
- Major Sarah Eberhard, Director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Missouri Highway Patrol
- Chief Brad Halsey, Independence Police Department
- Chief Sara Holzmeier, Truman State University Department of Public Safety
- Sheriff Randee Kaiser, Jasper County
- Sheriff Mark Owen, Platte County
- Chief Danny Whitele, Poplar Bluff Police Department
- Chief Mike Williams, Sikeston Department of Public Safety
- Chief Paul Williams, Springfield Police Department
- Paul Banda, Anti-Trafficking Advocate
- Amanda Colegrove, Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Exploitation
- Pam Hamilton, Cornerstones of Care
- Rochelle Keyhan, Polaris Project
- Amanda Mohl, Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator, International Institute of St. Louis, St. Louis Rescue & Restore Coalition
- Katie Rhoades, Executive Director, Healing Action
- Emily Russell, Victims' Advocate
- Nanette Ward, Chair, Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition