A local organization is bringing a free weekend program to Sedalia in hopes of raising awareness of human trafficking in Missouri.
Church Women United will host Nanette Ward, of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, in a free informative event Saturday afternoon. Linda Boe, who helped organize the event, said the group is passionate about helping the community and wants to help educate citizens about what human trafficking is, how to recognize it, and what to do when they see it.
“We hope to get parents, teachers, teenagers to attend,” Boe said. “It has a lot of ugly faces and we can do our part to stop these atrocities. … We’ve got to do a better job of educating our communities on trafficking and abuse, not just educators and police but educate families.”
Mari Asbury, executive director of Child Safe of Central Missouri, said human trafficking exists in Missouri and across the country. She said Child Safe is dedicated to having people talk about these types of issues and helping people realize it happens in local communities.
“Human trafficking affects all walks of life, male, female, all demographics,” Asbury said. “It’s not just sexual, it’s also for labor. People are being bought and sold.”
Ward helped found the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition in 2008 after learning more about the issue while working for the City of Columbia Human Rights Commission. She said the organization is actively engaged in community education throughout the mid-Missouri area and works with survivors of human trafficking in the area. She said they are currently assisting about 25 people.
Ward said education is key, such as her speaking engagement in Sedalia this weekend. She said many people either don’t understand human trafficking or think it could never happen in their own community.
“The only way to truly combat this crime Is to have that education first to know what it looks like, what it is, that it is an actual state crime, a federal crime, and can be reported,” she said. “Law enforcement can and should be involved whenever possible and these are victims who deserve services. But unless you know what it looks like in your community, then if we stay unaware then traffickers are winning, they stay ahead of us and continue to do these horrible things of profiting from the commodification of a human being.”
Ward said foreign people living in Missouri, or anywhere in America, working construction or at restaurants or hotels are vulnerable targets. She said they are usually told about a “great opportunity,” then their legal documents are taken and they are not given the promised wages. She said trafficking is often in plain sight in the hospitality industry or within families. Spouses or significant others trafficking their partner is not uncommon, and Ward knew of a rural Missouri case where a mother was sex trafficking her young daughter in exchange for money and drugs.
She said social media also creates vulnerable targets as people share more information about themselves with strangers.
“There is a demand in every size community for purchasing people for sex. There is not some special subset of people who only live in certain types of communities who will pay for sexual services, they exist everywhere,” Ward said. “… There are people desperate for money everywhere for lots of different reasons. There are people vulnerable for a lot of different reasons, whether young and wanting attention or older and out of a job. Those exist in every community and those are the conditions that make it possible for trafficking to happen.”
Ward said she hopes the key takeaway from Saturday’s event is learning what human trafficking is.
“Simply telling people what it is and examples of all the forms it takes, people come away with an awareness that really, truly changes the way they see things in the community,” she said. “Where they might not have paid attention before once they hear about human trafficking they might be suspicious, willing to call in a tip, find out more about a situation to see if they should call the police or be concerned for a young person and have a conversation with them or see something on social media.”
Ward will speak at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Convention Hall in Liberty Park. Refreshments will be provided.