HANNIBAL – How to recognize victims of human trafficking was among topics outlined to law enforcement officers last week during a program titled Stop Human Trafficking Together.
The program was hosted by Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn at Hannibal-LaGrange University.
He invited Emily Russell, coordinator of training and resources for the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force with the Missouri attorney general's office, to present the program after hearing her speak at a sheriff's conference.
"I realized we need to get more educated," Shinn said. For the session Tuesday, Shinn invited law enforcement agencies, including the Missouri State Highway Patrol and drug task force. The Wednesday program was presented to agencies including the Division of Family Services, Juvenile Justice Center and Probation and Parole office.
Russell emphasized that victims seldom ask for help, and some young victims do not have the words to describe what is happening to them. She said young victims often are programmed in advance by someone offering friendship and gifts for a long time before they become abused.
Statistics from the national human trafficking hotline show increasing numbers of contacts. The 2018 total of 41,088 contacts was composed of 28,335 phone calls; 5,197 texts, 1,566 webchats, 4,034 webforms and 1,956 emails.
This was a 25 percent increase from 2017. In 2018, 3,218 individual survivors contacted the hotline a total of 7,838 times. Additional statistics show 23,078 survivors were identified, 10,949 human trafficking cases were reported, 5,859 potential traffickers reported and 1,905 suspicious businesses reported.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 888-373-7888.
Describing individual cases, Russell said a high school girl was tormented for two years, spied on and told she was being watched, and if she told her family, they would be in danger. She kept it secret from her family for a long time before her family was made aware of the danger of their daughter becoming a victim and got it stopped.
Russell showed a video about how young boys were gradually prepared to become abused by someone they completely trusted. She said abuse is confusing to a child, and these boys did not feel they had been abused until later in life. They were trained from an early age and were not aware it was abuse. And they did not know how to talk about it.
"Trafficking victims can't see it in the beginning," Russell said. "They say they didn't know what was happening to them."
In one case "It took a woman years to understand her boyfriend was trafficking. … Self-protection makes it difficult to understand. … They see themselves as criminals, not victims. They may be on drugs and need their trafficker to supply them. … They don't trust law enforcement.
"They have lost hope," she continued. "They think no one cares. The trauma prevents them from being able to communicate what is happening to them. … They feel they are the lowest in society.
"Years of abuse diminishes self-worth. The victims will not tell," Russell said. "The burden is on us to know and take a pro-active approach, educate ourselves and be able to Identify victims. … Take advantage of an opportunity to develop a relationship."
Shinn was pleased to see a large number of officers attending the Tuesday program, adding "It's good to partner with the attorney general's office" because "sex trafficking has exploded. … it has been around" for a long time, and "We need to be educated as law enforcement."
Shinn advised parents to observe their children, and "If you see or observe your daughter or son coming home with items they shouldn't have" find out where they got them. "They will keep it secret." "The individual is preparing them and eventually will begin to take it (the gifts) away" if they don't let themselves become abused.
The trafficking tipline is 1-844-487-0492.
More information about human trafficking is on humantraffickinghotline.org.