The International Institute of St. Louis has received a grant from the U.S. Justice Department to fund initiatives to address problems of labor and sex trafficking in the St. Louis region.
The grant will provide the institute with $250,000 annually for three years.
“The services available to victims includes everything from housing, supportive services, access to health care and general case management,” said Blake Hamilton, the International Institute’s vice president of programs.
The Institute is a part of the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force of Eastern Missouri, along with the St. Louis County Police Department and other regional service providers.
“The Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force of Eastern Missouri is aligned to raise awareness around this issue, make sure service providers are aware of signs and are able to help victims access resources they might need,” Hamilton said. “The work of the task force is critical to ending the flow of human trafficking in the region.”
The St. Louis County Police Department investigated 191 cases of human trafficking between 2016 and 2018, Hamilton said. St. Louis County Police Sergeant Adam Kavanaugh said the grant helped shape how the community addresses human trafficking in the area.
“We’ve got to see girls that graduated high school, or got their GEDs or went on to college. Early on, 18 years ago, you would have never seen that piece,” he said. “With having this grant and having this coalition be able to grow has been fantastic for the area.”
Kavanaugh said that in addition to the region’s local trafficking problems, the St. Louis area is often used as a “stop-off” location.
“St. Louis is an area where we have a lot of through traffic,” he said. “That tends to make a little higher volume of trafficking going on because it’s that midpoint in the United States.”
The Institute’s award was one of many given to anti-human trafficking programs across the country. Hamilton said the shared-learning aspect of the grant is important in identifying broader trends in trafficking.
“We’re about to work together to look at how trafficking might differ in urban and rural settings and identify particularly how opioid usage might actually be involved,” Hamilton said. “There are trends around drug use and that sort of thing and that shared learning that’s communicated through the various other regions that are running similar programs is helpful in educating our law enforcement here and service providers.”
Hamilton said that the work the task force does is essential in combating the human trafficking issue in the region.
Follow Emma on Twitter: @ems_lorraine