JEFFERSON CITY – “It is the fastest growing crime.”
That's what Nanette Ward says about sex trafficking.
“It went from the third largest criminal industry when we started this work nine years ago to the second largest criminal industry. Second only to drug trafficking.”
Ward is a founding member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (MCADSV), which hosted a training for advocates across the state earlier in August to better equip themselves to combat the issue.
“There is an intersection between domestic violence and sex trafficking that occurs,” Ward said. “It’s relevant for those of us in the trafficking field as well to learn about that and become better equipped to provide for survivors of trafficking.”
In the past, sex traffickers were identified as "looking a certain way," but according to Ward, that’s not the case anymore.
“It’s really hard to know the numbers because it can be such a hidden crime,” Ward said. “Hidden, yet existing right in front of our eyes.”
Ward said sex traffickers could be online, at hotels, or in a normal household.
“The coalition has been doing its part for the past nine years to educate, educate, educate,” Ward said. “I think more people are identifying a person as a victim of trafficking as well as perhaps a victim of domestic violence.”
MCADSV public policy director Jennifer Dochler said the training was aimed at advocates of crisis centers and domestic violence shelters to better respond to those in need of the services.
Ward said the objectification and oversexualization of women in society contribute to them being viewed as merely commodities and in turn, trafficked.
She said human trafficking affects everyone, no matter their race, economic status, age, or ethnicity.
In her eyes, creating awareness in the community is the most important takeaway from the training.
“There’s an enforcement team, there’s a task force, there are new consumer regulations and there is work being done to get training to law enforcement and to community members,” Ward said.
The next step in their mission to eradicate trafficking is House Bill 261. This will require public places such as bus stops and businesses to advertise the national trafficking hotline.
“I’m very proud of how much bipartisan support there is in Missouri at both the federal and state level to really move forward and combat the issue,” Dochler said.
If you or anyone you know is involved with human trafficking, the national trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888.