A 2023 study ranks Missouri with the fourth highest rate of human trafficking in the nation. Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Andrew Bailey want the Missouri Legislature to pass a proposal that would classify as law a statewide anti-human trafficking task force.

“People’s lives, especially the lives of children, are being stolen, exploited, and abused by disgusting individuals who feel entitled to someone else’s life,” Parson said at a Thursday news conference. “Thanks to efforts across state government and those of the attorney general, we are fighting back in the state of Missouri.”

House Bill 1706, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Myers, R-Warrenton, could come up for Senate debate at any time.

Parson said since 2018, the Missouri State High Patrol has trained nearly 1,300 Missouri law enforcement officers to take a “victim-centered approach” to detecting potential human trafficking and better communicating with victims in fear of traffickers.

The attorney general’s task force is expanding the training while coordinating state government efforts. Bailey said the 54-member task force is made up of law enforcement, nonprofit advocacy groups, and others.

“The bottom line is that I want Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children and I’m going to use every legal tool at my disposal to combat human trafficking and exploitation. But this legislation is a significant step to ridding the state of the evil once and for all,” said Bailey.

Parson and Bailey also want lawmakers to pass a $1 million state budget request to boost awareness and recognize the threats of human trafficking.

“These funds will help the Attorney General’s Office deepen its work with partners like, the Missouri Children’s Division, to help protect our most vulnerable. A staggering 60% of child sex trafficking victims are believed to have been part of the child welfare system at one point,” Parson said.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, serves as the chair on the Missouri Statewide Council on Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children. He said few crimes are as reprehensible as the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

“Various interstate highways obviously contribute to this and facilitate a higher occurrence, and a general lack of awareness about what commercial sexual exploitation is, and the idea that it always occurs somewhere else.”

The legislature is working to pass a state budget by the deadline of May 10. The deadline to pass policy bills is May 17.

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