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To prevent sex trafficking, St. Louis group builds community awareness campaign

InPower Institute hosts community meeting to inform people on how to spot human trafficking and what to do about it.
Ashley Lisenby | St. Louis Public Radio

If you were a baroness trapped in the house of a jealous baron and had the opportunity to flee, would you do it if you knew your fate was death should you be caught?

That's the fictional dilemma, Lorren Buck presents attendees of a sex trafficking discussion in St. Louis on Saturday. The “drawbridge” exercise was intended to help people understand the kinds of choices and challenges a victim of sex trafficking might experience. In small groups, participants discussed who in the story could have helped the woman along the way and what her options might have been.

Buck and other members of InPower Institute in south St. Louis organized the awareness event to inform attendees of where sex trafficking in St. Louis exists and of resources they could access if they encountered incidents of trafficking.

InPower Institute is a community space that offers classes on arts, food and spirituality. The sex trafficking awareness event was the first in what organizers hope to be a series of talks on the subject.

“How do we develop a communal defense for people who live in this area as a way to empower community members to be (able to act),” Buck said.

That’s the initiative the group wanted to tackle with the discussion. There have been 72 reported cases of human trafficking in Missouri this year, according to data provided by the the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Among those cases, sex trafficking and labor trafficking ranked highest.

The hotline reports that there have been more than 600 reported cases of human trafficking in Missouri since 2007. These numbers do not account for cases that are not reported.

When asked who is at risk, Buck said that it may not be the type of person one would suspect.

“It’s not the person necessarily walking at night alone. This is an individual that’s unsuspecting. And I think that is the biggest thing,” Buck said.

She added that socioeconomic status and education levels aren’t always reasons why someone becomes trafficked

“It can happen to anybody. Someone who is unsuspecting,” she added.

One person who helped organize the event but did not want to be named said that they were getting gas at a St. Louis service station during the afternoon when the driver and passenger of a car attempted to get them to approach the vehicle.

Buck said trafficking can occur at any time of the day at locations that many people frequently visit, including retail stores and gas stations.

Robin Howard attended the event to learn more about what she could do to spot trafficking and prevent it after taking a late night tour of high trafficking areas in Houston.

“It opened up my eyes and made me realize there is stuff doing on right in the Midwest, conservative Midwest, that we don’t even know about,” Howard said. “I want to take a very active role and figuring what we can do and joining with some groups who are already working on that.”

Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.

Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.