It might seem like a problem that happens, well, over there. But the House is moving a bill that would crack down on human trafficking in Missouri.
Horrid stories of abuse, both physical and psychological, enslavement, beatings, torture, child prostitution all punctuate the debate as Representative Anne Zerr (R-St. Charles) brings before the House HB 214 to crack down on human trafficking.
“Whether for sexual purposes or forced labor, these crimes are committed by perpetrators who use deception and threats and physical violence, doing unspeakably brutal and hurtful things to women and children, both male and female, in order to control their victims and force them into prostitution or forced labor,” Zerr tells colleagues as she opens House debate.
The bill seeks to define the victim of human trafficking. It would add blackmail to the bill and allow the victim to sue the perpetrator for civil damages. It would give prosecutors a wide range of charges in which to seek a conviction. It would outlaw causing financial harm, such as telling a young girl she must perform according to a binding contract or telling laborers that they must work off a debt.
Zerr tells colleagues the state can no longer try to pretend this is someone else’s problem.
“It happens in Missouri, too,” Zerr says. “Not only across the world, not only across the country, but it happens in Missouri, too.”
In fact, the largest human trafficking case brought to trial in the United States was brought in Kansas City.
The FBI estimates there are 300,000 child prostitutes in the United States. Human trafficking often preys on runaways, vulnerable teen-agers and illegal immigrants. Zerr says someone will lure an underage girl into child prostitution by befriending them or promising them a career in film.
Zerr tells about a 16-year-old held captive in Lebanon, Missouri; raped, tortured and abused for five years until a torture session grew so intense that it sent her to a local hospital to be treated for cardiac arrest. A 12-year-old girl from Blue Springs was exploited by a family friend who sold her both online and in person for sexual favors. In Kansas City, charges were filed against a group who used illegal immigrants as forced labor in Kansas City and Branson.
Another favorable vote sends the bill to the Senate.