Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon came to Kansas City Wednesday to sign legislation strengthening laws against human trafficking.
“We tend to think of human trafficking as something that happens in a distant, undeveloped country,” Nixon said. “But the tragic reality is, right here in the United States, human trafficking is a real and growing problem.”
The bill Nixon signed makes it a crime for anyone to advertise a non-consenting person for sex. It also tightens the availability of addresses under the state’s Safe at Home Program, which shields the physical locations of victims of domestic and sexual violence.
“That’s incredibly important because it does exactly what the title says it does,” says Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. “It allows them, for the first time, to feel safe at home.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, says sex trafficking isn’t the only problem.
“The labor trafficking is what impacts us significantly in the rural areas, where you bring in people and force them to work for no wages,” Haahr said.
Missouri law enforcement officers are also in a position to help victims passing through the state.
“Missouri is kind of the gateway to the West with [highways] 44, 49 and 70 cutting through it, that we were going to have whatever possible tools we could have for state law enforcement and protection for the victims that we could,” Haahr said.
Rep. Randy Dunn, D-Kansas City, added that immigrant populations are particularly vulnerable, especially if they come from countries where trafficking is common.
“When there’s a language barrier, a cultural barrier, it does highlight that fact for victims,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who hosted the news conference. “It makes them more at prey.”
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.