The Missouri House of Representatives’ human trafficking task force is making several recommendations to the General Assembly, including funding for the care and sheltering of trafficking victims. Task force member Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri KidsFirst tells Missourinet she’s not hopeful that the recommendation will happen this year.
“In the budget year that we are looking at, I think that that probably is a pretty steep task and a little discouraging to be truthful. So much of what we need in order to make sure that people aren’t profiting off of selling women and children’s bodies is funding to address that. We’re in a climate where basically everyone is telling me we don’t have enough money,” says van Schenkhof.
A report issued by the panel also wants the legislature to create a state position that’s responsible for anti-trafficking initiatives.
“That is going to take money, but it’s considerably less than what it would cost to set up infrastructure and to be able to support services throughout the state, which would be an expenditure in the millions of dollars,” says van Schenkhof.
She says the position would include trying to obtain federal funding to help with anti-trafficking efforts.
The task force also recommends funding to educate law enforcement about trafficking. Van Schenkhof says law enforcement must be properly trained in order for such cases to be investigated and prosecuted.
“Human trafficking victims often look like prostitutes. So when you pick up a 17-year-old for participating in prostitution, we need to have law enforcement officers that are trained to see and to ask questions to make sure there isn’t more going on,” says van Schenkhof.
The report also recommends:
*Building on conviction expungement legislation passed in 2016 to include vacating convictions for some offenses committed while victims are trafficked,
*Requiring employers to display posters with the national trafficking hotline and related information,
*Establishing the crimes of coercion and extortion for threats to report illegal immigration status to officials for the purpose of extorting money,
*Reinstating funding for the Missouri Department of Labor inspectors who look for labor trafficking violations and other labor-related issues, and
*Legislation to continue the task force for another calendar year, with two survivors appointed to the task force.
The group is made up of lawmakers, law enforcement and anti-trafficking advocates.