Hundreds of Missourians rallied Tuesday at the state Capitol in Jefferson City against human trafficking.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, helped organize the rally, as part of her sex trafficking awareness day.
Nasheed, the Senate Minority Caucus Whip, says Missouri is a “hotspot” for human trafficking.
“We’re going to shine the light on exploitation, we’re going to shine the light on those individual predators who think that they can get away with it,” Nasheed tells the audience. “We’re going to tell them again: not on our watch.”
Nasheed tells the audience that human trafficking is a “serious, silent epidemic” in Missouri.
She’s filed legislation that would allow those forced into prostitution against their will to have their criminal records relating to prostitution expunged, upon court approval.
The Missouri Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing on Nasheed’s bill this week.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also spoke at Tuesday’s rally.
Hawley, a Republican, says action is what’s needed to fight human trafficking in Missouri. He tells the audience that human trafficking is an epidemic both nationally and in Missouri.
“In 2017, last year, the National Trafficking Hotline reported 240 reports of human trafficking here in the state of Missouri,” Hawley says.
Hawley says that over the past decade, the National Hotline reports more than 1,000 potential human trafficking victims in Missouri.
He also notes that July raids across southwest Missouri shut down 13 businesses that were acting as fronts for human trafficking.
Meantime, State Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, says human trafficking is impacting the Gateway City.
Franks tells the audience that combatting human trafficking is a bipartisan issue.
“This is an issue that plagues the city of St. Louis and all too often even in our economically distressed communities, we don’t truly understand what human trafficking is,” Franks says.
Franks praises bipartisan legislation from State Rep. Patricia Pike, R-Adrian, which requires the Missouri Department of Public Safety (DPS) to develop human trafficking hotline posters for locations such as hotels, motels, airports and train stations.
The Missouri House has approved Pike’s bill by a 139-5 vote.
State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, State Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, and State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, also addressed the audience.
The human trafficking issue has also attracted attention on Capitol Hill.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) spoke at a Washington press conference last week, urging passage of a federal bill called the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.” That bill is aimed at making sure websites like Backpage can be held liable.
Backpage was also blasted during Tuesday’s Jefferson City rally by Hawley, who describes Backpage as “a website that facilitates trafficking against women.”
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline is (888) 373-7888.