State Rep. Jean Evans (R-Manchester) says sex traffickers have been taking advantage of Missouri law, by bringing their victims to the state to marry them. The freshman lawmaker has pre-filed legislation that would increase from 15 to 17 Missouri’s minimum age at which a person can get married.
Current Missouri law allows teens as young as 15 to get a marriage license when extenuating circumstances exist, as long as one of the teen’s parents gives permission.
Evans says when traffickers marry their juvenile victims, it makes prosecuting the abuser difficult or impossible.
“That’s not something that we want to be known for, is a place for sex traffickers to come to do that sort of thing,” says Evans.
Evans says some parents are involved in trafficking their own children and agree to such marriages. She recalls one case involving a woman who reported being trafficked at the age of 3 by her parents.
“As disturbing and disgusting as that is, that is a reality that we’re dealing with, and to the extent that we can intervene we want to do so,” says Evans.
She says there is little that can be done to investigate extenuating circumstances. Evans says the responsibility is falling on the recorder of deeds office wherever the marriage license is being issued.
“They’re not social workers or FBI agents,” says Evans. “They’re just issuing the marriage license as long as they have one parent’s consent.”
She says an undue burden is being placed on the recorder of deeds offices to investigate whether the circumstances are extreme.
The Missouri legislature convenes on Wednesday.