Organizations mark first sex trafficking awareness month
JEFFERSON CITY - More than 30 Missouri organizations gathered at the Capitol to help raise awareness about sex trafficking Tuesday.
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, hosted the event to mark January as Missouri's first Sex Trafficking Awareness Month.
The participating organizations showcased their work and addressed a variety of ways to address human trafficking.
The coalitions program development specialist Gail Reynoso said she has been working with Nasheed's office since last August to put the event together.
"We have a wide variety of organizations serving victims of crime, but most specifically human trafficking survivors," Reynoso said.
The event comes after a 2015 resolution, sponsored by Nasheed and supported by the coalition, which made January the official Sex Trafficking Awareness Month in Missouri.
Nasheed's Chief of Staff Jason Groce said the event meant a lot to Nasheed.
"We are number 10 in the region and we are the 20th ranked state when it comes to sex trafficking," Groce said. "So this is a really big issue here in Missouri."
Nanette Ward, a board member for the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, said sex trafficking is a concern throughout Missouri.
"Sex trafficking of Missourians happens in rural communities and in big cities," Ward said.
There was a hearing Tuesday on a senate bill that states: "Under current law, a person commits sexual trafficking of a child by knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a child to participate in a commercial sex act, a sexual performance, or the production of sexually explicit material. This act adds, as an element of sexual trafficking of a child, advertising the availability of a child to participate in a commercial sex act, a sexual performance, or the production of explicit sexual material."
Ward said, "It is so critical that are legislation includes advertisement. Sex trafficking is already a crime, state and federal. But to have the advertisement, where folks in the middle are knowingly recruiting so they can advertise and they're in that train of the whole crime happening against our children, will be a really important piece to be included as part of the crime of sex trafficking."
The organizers held a ceremony after the event where Nasheed, other legislators and an advocate spoke about human trafficking in Missouri and the importance of designating January as Sex Trafficking Awareness Month.
Ward said the Stop Human Trafficking Coalition plans to host "A Call to Boldness!" to commemorate National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and Missouri's First Sex Trafficking Awareness Month at the Columbia Public Library Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.