Missouri group hopes to bring a dark underworld to light

It is considered to be one of the fasted growing criminal industries across the planet: human Trafficking. A Missouri group called Ignite: Sparking Action Against Sex Trafficking is hosting what it says is the first national, comprehensive conference on sex trafficking.
It is estimated that there are least 300,000 children nationwide, and more than one million worldwide, who are at risk of being victims of sex trafficking.
Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery when people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of "labor or services," such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will.
Molly Hackett, principal of the anti-trafficking group Exchange Initiative, is organizing the event in St. Louis, and says that it is clear that the problem exists in Missouri, but it's difficult to get exact statistics.
The event will bring together professionals from law enforcement, medicine, education, faith-based and community groups to help better understand the problem and coordinate action.
“Everyone needs each other. We need the school counselors to understand what they're seeing much as for law enforcement, what resources are available in safe housing, who can they call to make everyone's efforts just so much more effective,” Hacket said.
Missouri has had 169 potential trafficking cases since 2007, according to the Polaris Project, which is a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  In 2012 there were nine calls related to sex trafficking in our region.
The Covering House, a program in Missouri to provide refuge and restoration for girls who have experienced sexual exploitation or sexual trafficking, explains the horrific details of the industry and what to look out for.  
Law enforcement across the country have pinpointed the internet as the number one ruler for the buying and selling of children and women for sex. Sex trafficking is alive and thriving on websites such as backpage.com, eros.com and myred.com, where they hide under disguises such as massage and various other services. On most online classified websites, anyone can post an advertisement, making it extremely easy to sell underage girls on these sites.
 Although the internet is the leading face of prostitution, it has brought down street prostitution considerably, only comprising the sex trade of 10 to 20 percent according to the Department of Justice. Most victims are often expected to earn a daily amount of $500-$1000. In most cases, the “pimp” claims all or most of the money. In today's music videos, movies and video games, pimps are glamorized. This disguises the brutal and violent reality of a “pimps” behavior in the horrifying life of sex trafficking.
Central Missouri is a major hub for truck stops, which makes it easy for sex traffickers to buy and sell women and children. Truck stops are close to main interstates,  making it a dream scenario for trafficking its victims. What's even more shocking is that traffickers can load their trucks with women and children without their feet ever touching the ground.
The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13 to 14 years old. A pimp can make $150,00 to $200,000 per child each year in the United States, and a pimp has four to six girls on average according to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has identified St. Louis as one of the top 20 human trafficking jurisdictions in the country. According to the National Runaway Hotline one in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
According to The Polaris Project there are distinct signs that human trafficking may be happening. The woman or child has poor mental health or abnormal behavior such as being fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid. The victim may exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement, and avoids eye contact. Another key indicator is if you see a young woman or child who has poor physical health and appears malnourished or shows any physical signs of abuse (bruises, physical restraints.) If you see any of these red flags, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
The conference takes place March 2 through March 4 in St. Louis marking the 8th annual National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. More information is online at ExchangeInitiative.com.