St. Louis, Mo. – Speaking from a safe-house in an undisclosed location near St. Louis, Attorney General Josh Hawley today announced major new initiatives to combat human trafficking in Missouri. Joined by law enforcement officers, trafficking survivors, and victim advocates, Hawley announced bold new measures that are effective immediately.
These initiatives begin with new regulations under Missouri’s consumer protection laws that target human traffickers. The first of their kind in the country, Hawley’s regulations prohibit the use of businesses as “fronts” for trafficking, make debt bondage illegal, and provide for new civil and criminal penalties on traffickers. Along with the regulations, issued under his authority as Attorney General, Hawley announced the creation of a new Anti-Trafficking Unit in the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the new rules. This unit will be composed of investigators and prosecutors ready to enforce the regulations statewide, and to aid local prosecutors in criminal cases involving trafficking offenders.
Hawley also announced the creation of a permanent, statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, the only one of its kind in Missouri, to include law enforcement officials, local prosecutors, social-service providers, victims’ advocates, and individual human-trafficking survivors. The Task Force will coordinate law enforcement efforts and services for victims. Finally, Hawley announced that his office will work to bring training on trafficking to law enforcement personnel and industries where trafficking occurs.
“Today is the day Missouri says ‘no more’ to the epidemic of human trafficking,” said Hawley. “Human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world, and the fastest growing. It is happening right here, in our own neighborhoods, every day. I became a lawyer because I believe in justice, and justice means protecting the vulnerable and the exploited. I am proud to announce these efforts to make Missouri a leader in the fight to abolish trafficking. To the criminals who would exploit the weak, the vulnerable and the oppressed, I say this: Missouri is officially closed for your kind of business.”
Missourians from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds praised Attorney General Hawley’s initiatives:
“For those who may not believe human trafficking is a real problem in Missouri, I ask you to look no further than my own story,” said Katie Rhoades, a human trafficking victim turned activist with Healing Action, a nonprofit based in St. Louis focusing on ending sexual exploitation. “We need more people with Attorney General Hawley’s passion and commitment to truly bring an end to human trafficking once and for all. I am thrilled to hear about the initiatives he has announced today, and I look forward to working with his office as part of the task force.”
“I commend Attorney General Hawley for his innovative new approach to combat this pivotal issue,” said Cass County Prosecuting Attorney, Ben Butler. “The regulations he announced today will provide law enforcement and prosecutors with powerful new tools to fight against this heinous form of crime.”
“Local prosecutors need a centralized state resource to help with the complexities of human trafficking cases,” said St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar. “By collaborating with the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Unit, local prosecutors will be better equipped to seek justice for these victims.”
“Improved training, added public awareness, and increased investigatory resources are essential to tackling the human-trafficking crisis in Missouri,” said Liberty Police Chief and President of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, James Simpson. “The initiatives announced today by Attorney General Hawley will accomplish all three.”
“I have been an advocate in this area for nine years,” said Nanette Ward, founding member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. “I have great hope for change in Missouri with the remarkable reforms being spearheaded by Attorney General Hawley who has such passion about this topic. Our dream is to put an end to human trafficking, and I believe with General Hawley’s help we will make unprecedented strides toward making that a reality.
“Human trafficking is a heinous crime, often committed against the most vulnerable victims, and it happens every day in our country,” said United States Senator Roy Blunt. “On the campaign, Josh Hawley vowed to fight against human trafficking, and I am not surprised that is exactly what he intends to do. The initiatives announced today will go a long way toward strengthening Missouri law enforcement’s ability to prevent these crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. I’m proud to support Hawley’s efforts on this issue, and look forward to seeing our state set an example for how to combat human trafficking across the nation.”
“While many believe that sex trafficking doesn’t exist in our own neighborhoods, the greater St. Louis metropolitan region has sadly been identified as one of the top 20 areas in the country for this horrific crime,” said Congresswoman Ann Wagner. “Attorney General Hawley’s new task force and initiatives are invaluable steps in ending this evil practice once and for all, and will help free victims from the chains of modern day slavery. I am grateful for Attorney General Hawley’s support of my new legislation, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, which will lift barriers that have prevented the federal government, states, and victims of sex trafficking from pursuing justice against those who facilitate human trafficking.”