St. Louis agencies are banning together to combat human trafficking in the Eastern District of Missouri with the aid of a $1 million grant.
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St. Louis agencies are banning together to combat human trafficking in the Eastern District of Missouri with the aid of a $1 million grant.

Date: December 12, 2013
By: Jessica Mensch
State Capitol Bureau

For citizens of Missouri, human trafficking is happening closer to you than you may have realized.
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Wrap: Thirteen years old. That's the average age a domestic trafficking victim is forced into sex slavery.

This lucrative and dangerous industry not only garners victims from outside of the US. Many live in your city. Some may even live in your neighborhood. But most are adolescent runaways, especially ones who are homeless.

St. Louis is one of the top 20 cities in the US in terms of numbers of reported human trafficking victims according to the Department of Justice.

The St. Louis police, St. Charles Sheriff’s Department, and three social service providers received a grant in September for one million dollars from the US Department of Justice to fight this nine-point-five billion dollar industry in the US.
Sergeant Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police says the sex and labor trafficking industries have become progressively more apparent in the past years in his area.

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Description: “There is a need here. And I think that based on the work my detectives have done in the past we were able to show that need to the Department of Justice.”

Only 6 jurisdictions in the entire country received the grants.

Kavanaugh says it is hard to tell why St. Louis is among the top cities for human trafficking. He says it may not mean cases are more frequent in St. Louis, just that victims are more often identified in St. Louis than in other cities. 

Kavanaugh also attributes the increase in reported trafficking victims to new technology now available to aid in selling victims for labor and sex.

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Description: "Most of this is done via the internet. So, a lot of people always think back page of Craigslist, well there's literally dozens and dozens of other websites that are promoting prostitution."

The Crisis Intervention Supervisor for the YWCA St. Louis Sexual Assault Center Cindy Malott says they will use the grant to help expand services by adding another staff member to focus on finding psychiatric and legal help for victims of domestic sex trafficking. 

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Description: "Obviously I would be lying if I didn't say we could probably use more staff than that, there's a need and I'm hoping they'll see more of a need."

Malott says the exact number of victims is hard to pin-point, but she has seen and tried to help more than seventy victims of sex trafficking this year alone.

Kavanaugh says that with part of this grant the St. Louis police will be able to hire two or more additional detectives to focus solely on the issue of trafficking.
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Description: “My priority that I made for the unit is the protection of the women. Get them out of the lifestyle, get them back to being productive in society. As opposed to how it used to be looked at as 'well let’s just arrest the girls and move on'.”

The effect of the new services available with this grant won't be measurable for many years.

Malott says this grant is a start to eliminating human trafficking in eastern Missouri, but there is still a long way to go.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Jessica Mensch.