If immediate response is needed, call 911. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

By: Roy Joachimstaler, Retired Police Executive and Board Member of Gateway Human Trafficking

As we closeout the first month of 2022, it’s good to reflect on the direction and purpose in our attempts to educate the community in the hazards associated with Human Trafficking which are faced many times by those vulnerable members of our society. It is estimated that there are 40 million victims of Human Trafficking worldwide and we know firsthand that there are victims of this tragic occurrence here in Missouri and even right here in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The mission of Gateway Human Trafficking is “to educate communities and inspire positive systemic change to end human trafficking.” We take our mission seriously and are constantly educating first responders, medical field employees, school districts, community and business groups, and anyone who will listen.

Even in the middle of the current pandemic, our efforts have not diminished. Many times, we provided our education and training sessions on-line to continue the important process of bringing this crime against humanity to the attention of as many persons as possible. From our training at police academies and various police departments, to our efforts with school districts and hospital systems, we have brought the message forward, not to mention our constant information distribution through our website. It is important to note that research has shown that even during the pandemic, cases of human trafficking have continued. This especially occurred when the schools were shut down because there were increased children on-line more often, giving traffickers more of an opportunity for initial contacts through social media. And, mandated reporters, such as teachers not seeing the kids in school on a daily basis, eliminated an important element in identifying possible victims.

Elements of the crime of human trafficking involve acts of force, fraud, or coercion, unless the victim is under 18 years of age, then those elements -concerning sex trafficking- are not a required factor in the crime. It’s also very important to know that the coercion does not necessarily mean it has to be physical. Victims can experience coercion through various psychologically abusive tactics which would also meet the elements of the crime. Those traffickers, especially those involved with minor victims, prey on the victim’s vulnerabilities offering resources and even love to gain the trust of their victim. Past history also shows us that many times the traffickers are not strangers, but rather, they can be intimate partners, friends, or even family members.

We also must not forget that human trafficking can involve forced labor trafficking that also involves force, fraud and coercion and has been described as modern-day slavery. These crimes are difficult to identify and investigate because it often begins with a legitimate job offer then can develop into involuntary servitude. These violations are not investigated by law enforcement or Department of Justice personnel, but rather, investigators assigned to the Departments of Labor and/or Agriculture.

I will end this perspective with an observation. Our country seems to be very divided along political lines; however, one significant truth remains, both major political parties in this country are united in their support for the elimination of all forms of human trafficking. And that’s a good thing.

Need help? United States:

1 (888) 373-7888

National Human Trafficking Hotline

SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week

Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages

Website: http://humantraffickinghotline.org

Locally, contact Eastern Missouri Human Trafficking Task Force in the St. Louis County Police Department Special Investigations Unit

at 314-615-8618 or send an email to humantrafficking@stlouisco.com.