DOWNTOWN — January is Sex Trafficking Awareness month in St. Louis, and during the month local organizations, charities, advocates and individuals will come together to raise awareness of an issue that has long affected various communities.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, every year millions of men, women, and children from various racial backgrounds, education and socioeconomic levels are victims of human trafficking.
Information provided by the Healing Action, an advocacy group for survivors of sex exploitation, describes common trafficking victims as those who are psychologically and/or emotionally vulnerable, those suffering from economic hardship, citizens in politically unstable countries, and victims of natural disasters.
The group warns that St. Louis is ranked 16th in the country for sex trafficking. The high levels of segregation and poverty in the city, various major highways going through the city, and the highest number of strip clubs per capita make St. Louis a ripe breeding ground for trafficking.
In 2015, State Senator Jamilah Nasheed sponsored a bill that named January as Sex Trafficking Awareness Month in Missouri. In 2018, Nasheed also saw to it that language was included in bill SB 793 to protect those who were forced into trafficking as minors. Under this bill, victims caught in sex trafficking will have their records expunged if they were forced into prostitution as children.
Nasheed says this new law takes a more aggressive stance against sex trafficking.
“Under this new law, if you hurt children, Missouri will find you. We will stop you, and you will face justice,” said Nasheed. “Under this new law, we will help victims of sex trafficking who have been convicted of prostitution to remove what mark from their record.”
Nasheed said the law should punish the perpetrators who engage in sex trafficking, not the women and children exploited by it.
“Last year we worked together, we passed this law, and now Missouri will punish the monsters who fuel this crime, not the victims,” said Nasheed.