Human Sex Trafficking | St. Louis Public Radio

Human Sex Trafficking

U.S. Rep Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin, raised $804,000 from Jan. 1 to March 31.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s “Behind the Headlines” on St. Louis on the Air, we took an in-depth look at a bill on sex trafficking that has passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House of Representatives and will be moving on to the Senate.

U.S. Rep Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin, raised $804,000 from Jan. 1 to March 31.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri says coordination between private area transportation operations is crucial in the fight against sex trafficking, especially since St. Louis has become a hub in the illegal trade.

The Ballwin Republican met Thursday with representatives from rail and bus companies, along with Uber and Lyft ridesharing services. During the closed-door meeting, they discussed ways that drivers and employees can spot potential trafficking victims, who are often underage and forced into the sex trade.

Advocate and author Christine McDonald, right, listens to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri testify during a public hearing in St. Louis about human trafficking.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Eastern Missouri has four full-time police officers dedicated to investigating human trafficking cases, but convictions are rare.

Law enforcement officials say it's hard to build cases against perpetrators because witnesses are few and victims often are unseen. To improve awareness, Webster University will hold a training session this weekend for law students and the general public. Attendees will hear how people are forced into sex work and other trades, and how to identify warning signs.

Judge Paul Herbert stands in his courtroom after one of the court's weekly sessions.
Andrea Muraskin | Side Effects

Originally published July 7, 2016, by Side Effects Public Media. 

It’s not something you expect to see in a courtroom: 35 women, chatting, laughing, eating lasagna. But brunch before the session is a weekly tradition at an unusual court in Columbus, Ohio.

Once the plates are cleared away and everyone sits down in a semicircle facing the bench, a probation officer steps to the center of the room, with an empty plastic bin and a big smile.

“You know I love you so much, right?” she says, as she collects everyone’s cell phones, to a chorus of groans.

Advocate and author Christine McDonald, right, listens to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri testify during a public hearing in St. Louis about human trafficking.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

About three dozen minors in the St. Louis region have been rescued from sex trafficking so far this year, and a nationwide sting last week recovered 149 children, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But during a public hearing in St. Louis, local agencies who help victims said they’re strapped for resources.

Katie Rhoades (left), a sex trafficking survivor who leads group sessions at Magdalene House, and Tricia Roland-Hamilton (right), Magdalene St. Louis' executive director.
Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

On May 30, the Magdalene St. Louis held its opening ceremony in the city’s Old North neighborhood. The ceremony took place just one day after President Obama signed The Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA). The newly renovated home serves as a residential program for women who have been victims of sex trafficking.

Ann Wagner
St. Louis Regional Chamber | File photo

For the first time in 13 years, Congress has passed new regulations on human sex trafficking. On May 29, The Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA) was signed by President Obama.

The bill is comprised of a number of specifications, which include:

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Missouri Attorney General Koster was the lead-off signature on a bipartisan letter sent today by most of the nation’s state attorneys general that calls on Congress “to amend the law to help fight prostitution and child sex trafficking.”

Sent to top legislative leaders, the letter advocates that Congress “amend the Communications Decency Act to provide criminal jurisdiction to state and local prosecutors.”

At issue, wrote Koster and others, was the fact that the act was drafted in the mid-1990s before the internet became such a dominant force.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 10, 2012 - St. Louis is on the front lines of a battle between two networks. Both use the internet, business contacts, interstate highways, airlines and hotels. One exploits young girls, selling them for sex. The other is trying to rescue them.