Human Trafficking Prevention

The Human Trafficking Prevention focus area supports holistic and collaborative efforts to respond to and prevent the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of young people in our region.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in Missouri. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use manipulation, false promises, romantic or family relationships, and violence to lure victims into trafficking situations.

Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

Understanding the Need  

St. Louis and the bi-state area has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country. This is largely due to its central location and accessibility through the interstate highway system. Calls to the human trafficking hotline have steadily increased in both Missouri and Illinois since 2015. Of the reported cases in Missouri, over 90% involve sex, with the most common venues of pornography and hotels/motels. Nearly 50% of the cases through the hotline involved minors. People who lack strong support networks, have experienced violence in the past, are experiencing homelessness, or are otherwise marginalized in society are especially vulnerable to trafficking.

Despite the explosion of concern - some of it fueled by misinformation - about complex child sex trafficking schemes and kidnappings, data shows victims usually know and trust their traffickers. Recruitment by family members and intimate partners was highly reported for all forms of trafficking.  Since 2020, the internet has been the number one location used for recruitment of victims.

In 2016, Marillac Mission Fund completed a study focused on prevention of human trafficking, and especially commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth (CSEC). This report revealed the need to focus on the following areas: preventing first time sex trafficking, helping youth who have been victimized to recover from their trauma, and addressing risk factors that create vulnerability in the first place. 

Following this initial report, MMF helped create the funder collaborative, Missouri Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (MCAHT), which funded a statewide needs assessment to identify current gaps in services. The assessment revealed the top five needs in the region are mental health services, including therapy, counseling, and support groups; transitional housing; shelters for adults; shelter for minors; and substance use services, including residential and detox programs.

Marillac Mission Fund’s Response

MMF has committed to funding the following three strategies: 

  • Prevention Programming consists of a systems-based approach to tackling risk factors. Prevention should be viewed across a spectrum of first-time prevention, intervention, and survivor services to prevent first-time exposure and re-entry.

  • Training & Education is essential in both understanding how to prevent trafficking and supporting victims in ways that are tailored to their specific needs. Being able to properly identify and manage cases increases the chances that a victim will receive necessary help and that a trafficker will be properly prosecuted. Training should also help to develop the understanding that those who have been trafficked are victims, not criminals. Education is also critical to combat pervasive myths and misinformation about trafficking in the United States.

  • Survivor Services include survivor-led, developed, and informed programming, trauma-informed care, peer to peer support, culturally competent services and providers, and survivor-specific services. Quality services are provided through listening to youth voices, and engaging with them respectfully. Residential programming that includes many of the above promising practices has also shown greater success with survivor recovery than outpatient care. 

The Missouri Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation has published a Standards of Care document to help guide agencies working with survivors of human trafficking.

Visit Polaris Project for accurate statistics and facts about trafficking.

Click here for additional resources.