Vicky Hartzler comes to Mid-Missouri to speak out against human trafficking

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COLUMBIA - Missouri currently ranks 16th in the country for the number of trafficking reports, with 140 human trafficking cases reported this year already. 

Fourth District U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, hosted a panel discussion Monday evening at Battle High School, where she and others sought to address this statistic. 

The summit, Hartzler hopes, will "let people know how this is happening everywhere, even here in our local community." Hartzler said community involvement is essential in reducing the number of trafficking cases in Missouri and nationally. 

Hartzler, who used to be a high school teacher, applauded Battle High School's progress in noticing warning signs young adults may exhibit that Hartzler said can be triggers to intervention. "Absences, depression, health and personal appearance, these can all be signs to watch for," Hartzler said.

Battle High School Principal Kim Presko, said she takes her job as a protector of youth very seriously, and does all she can to keep her students safe. "We're in the business of advancing lives," Presko said. "We do all we can to make sure our students have the best chance to succeed."

Former adult film star Jessica Joy Neely spoke as well, she blames the culture for the rise of sex trafficking and pornographic industry. "We live in an insta-famous world," Neely said. "Everyone wants instant fame, instant this, instant that, and we want to skip life's struggles."

Neely said because people are looking for those things, they may be more vulnerable and likely to be taken advantage of by traffickers.

Hartzler said she hopes her constituency will appreciate her bill that she said will give law enforcement agencies the dollars and resources needed to go after individuals who are paying money to have sex with victims of trafficking. "A bill I cosponsored is now law and that goes after the online trafficking and selling of sex acts."

The bill has only been a law for a little over a month, but it has already shut down many websites that peddle sex acts, like backpage.com which is now under the control of the federal government.

Democratic Senator Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis sponsored a state bill that would make a way for those forced into prostitution to have their criminal offenses related to the practice erased. She organized a human trafficking demonstration of her own in Jefferson City last week.

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