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What you need to know about human trafficking in the St. Louis region and what to do about it

Amanda Mohl, Dr. Rumi Price and Carmen Guynn, all advocates in the area of human trafficking, joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to discuss the issue in the region.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Amanda Mohl, Dr. Rumi Price and Carmen Guynn, all advocates in the area of human trafficking, joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to discuss the issue in the region.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, author Alex Tizon writes of a woman who spent 56 years in his family’s household as a slave. “My Family’s Slave,” which has inspired copious dialogue and backlash about the author’s intent, uncovered a side of human trafficking we rarely talk about.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, three local experts shed light on how human trafficking is at play in the St. Louis region. Missouri currently has the 17th most human trafficking cases reported in the country, according to Polaris, a human trafficking advocacy organization.

Dr. Rumi Price, a professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine and organizing member of the Human Trafficking Collaborative Network said that, in general, Missouri is good about reporting and advocating against human trafficking, but the majority of knowledge of the subject lies around sex trafficking more so than labor trafficking.

Amanda Mohl, the anti-trafficking community coordinator at the International Institute of St. Louis, said that it is very hard to judge how large of a problem human trafficking is in the region.

“We don’t have great statistics; this is often a hidden problem and oftentimes victims don’t identify as victims,” Mohl said. “A specific social service provider can tell you how many tips we’ve gotten but we can’t tell you how many people might be impacted out there. Any statistics you see out there are the tip of the iceberg.”

In addition to homeless youth and members of the LGBTQ community, the foreign-born population in the United States is greatly at risk for labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Even if they identify the issue as such, they may not feel comfortable reporting for fear of legal repercussions.

“Within the last five to six months, we’ve seen our tips go down,” Mohn said. “There’s already such an increase in fear about coming forward with any kind of issue. Even if people come forward anonymously, they worry that the rules have changed and an agent may have to report. We’re in a landscape where we’re not sure what the rules are anymore.

Polaris recently released a list of the top 25 industries in the United States that harbor the greatest majority of human trafficking. It includes industries like landscaping, healthcare, nail salons and beauty services and construction.

Carmen Guynn, a lead organizer with the Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation, said that there are few prosecutions of human trafficking cases in the St. Louis region, but that St. Louis and Missouri are working on making strides in creating harsher penalties for such cases.

“When you think about prosecution, you look at force, fraud or coercion,” Mohl said. “And most people think it is force. What we’re seeing on the streets and in reality is that most people are brought in through fraud and kept through coercion. Coercion is really hard to prove in a court of law. That’s why we’re seeing cases being charged to child pornography, visa fraud, promoting of prostitution because these are things you can prove and get a charge on.”

Every guest on the program urged caution in reporting human trafficking cases, urging observation of a situation for a period of time instead of inserting yourself into the process. If you suspect human trafficking to be happening to a person you have seen or know, Mohl recommended calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888, where you can leave an anonymous tip.

“I want people to be more aware and more present with people around you,” Guynn said. “I think sometimes we do not care until it is someone we know or yourself, but we have to be more present and observant with people around us.”

Price recommended checking out http://slaveryfootprint.org/ to understand how consumerism and the goods you use fuel human trafficking.

“If you see something, if your gut is telling you something is not right, call the hotline,” Mohl said. “If you see something, say something.”  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.