SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — January is national human trafficking prevention month, a key time to educate ourselves on the topic and learn to spot the signs of trafficking.
To address the issue locally, the Greene County Juvenile Office created a high-risk victim taskforce.
“Human Trafficking particularly related to juveniles, I think we’re kind of in a position today with that similar to what we were in with domestic violence a number of years ago where it’s a significant problem that wasn’t seen by a lot of people,” Bill Prince with the Greene County Juvenile Office said.
Prince says creating awareness months and programs brings this problem to the forefront.
“At least with respect to juveniles, there really was not for a number of years a good consistent response to how we address those issues,” Prince said.
With help from a number of agencies, Prince says they’re now working to do just that.
“It started through dealing with runaways,” Prince said. “Oftentimes they are running away from something bad or they are running to something bad. So, finding out a way to identify those kiddos and get a coordinated system-wide response to their issues is what this high-risk victims taskforce was about.”
Missouri State Highway Patrol is one of the groups that is a part of these efforts.
“The FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit has given us statistics that a lot of are transported by a vehicle which is going to be our best interaction or chance of interaction,” Master Sergeant Danielle Heil with the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.
Heil is one of nine people responsible for training troopers on recognizing signs of human trafficking.
“Really focuses on the mindset of how we view the victims,” Heil said. “I think in the past we didn’t really see them as victims.”
According to the national human trafficking hotline, in 2020 there were 235 cases, 36 rescues, and 106 arrests in Missouri.