New sex trafficking laws give survivors hope

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COLUMBIA – A new sex trafficking law in Missouri has hit home with one survivor of human trafficking.

The bill, signed by Governor Jay Nixon on June 22, expands the definition of sex trafficking and increases the protection of victims of sex trafficking. 

"I think it's great. The privacy act really hits home with me because I worry every day. We shred all of my mail. I don't have my own address. Of course, I can't do social media because that's just setting yourself up. Just having things in my name scares me, like having my name on a license. So I think it's great. I think it'll make people feel more safe."

The survivor, who will be referred to as Blair to keep her anonymous, was a victim of sexual assaults, sex trafficking and sex slavery for over two decades.

It started when she was three years old, when three separate distant family members molested her over a two-year stretch. The molesters don't know the others committed the same acts.

By 14, Blair was breaking into houses, stealing prescription drugs, and selling them to pay for her own drug habits. That's when it started going downhill for her.

"When you get that innocence taken away from you, you lose that sweetness," Blair said. 

At 18, she was raped for the first time. The rapes and beatings didn't stop for the next decade. She was routinely beaten and burned. She was forced to stay in the house. She was a sex slave to three different men over a 10-year stretch.

"I just didn't feel like I had any kind of worth. It spiraled out of control, and I was just with people who were just terrible," Blair said.

During these times, Blair was in and out of a psychiatric ward. Nothing solved the problem, though, until she said she found Christ. 

"God has given me so much in such a short amount of time. I couldn't have done it without him."

While she said she still has night terrors every night, she's learned how to deal with them better as time has gone on.

"About a month before and a month after I spoke about my experiences for the first time were tough. It didn't take much for me to cry," she said. "I fight for my life in almost every dream I have, but it's getting better every day."

That's why this new law is comforting to survivors like Blair. Officially called House Bill 1562, the law adds the "act of advertising the availability of a minor or non-consenting adult for prostitution or pornography" to the definition of sex trafficking. The state previously had not fully addressed availability of another person for the purposes of sexual exploitation in its definition of sex trafficking.

Along with expanding the definition of sex trafficking, lawmakers made two additions to improve protections under the Safe at Home Program. One addition increases the penalties for attempting to access the addresses of victims in the program. The other adds victims of human trafficking to the list of eligible participants for the Safe at Home Program.

The Safe at Home Program allows victims to have a different address on government documents than where they actually live. This provides another level of security for victims who are trying to escape their perpetrators.

The Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition has been raising awareness for human trafficking for eight years, and one of its co-founders, Nanette Ward, expressed joy when this law was passed.

"It was attempted last year (the bill being passed), and all of us advocates thought it would be a no-brainer. Whatever got in the way, it didn't happen," Ward said. "So we're relieved that it finally did happen. It just is something that absolutely should be a part of the protection for victims of trafficking."

While the bill being passed is a victory for people like Ward and Blair, Ward said there's still more work to do.

"When we become more aware, then we have that ability to have that alertness to the signs (of human trafficking) and to know who to call," Ward said. "And then, in turn, you have an alert law enforcement that doesn't pass it off as something else. It really takes everyone at every level to have that awareness."

You can read the full details of the new law here.

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