We all remember the raids that Joplin police conducted in early 2018 on massage parlors in the Joplin area. They were part of a wider investigation into human trafficking, and they resulted in seven women being freed from those businesses and taken for help.
Today, those seven women are out of the Joplin area, seeking work elsewhere and trying to move on with their lives.
But they weren’t the first trafficking victims to move through Joplin, nor will they be the last.
In fact, the most common trafficking victim in this area is a runaway teenager or a young adult who is trying to get away from a bad situation and falls victim to someone, either in person or online, who slowly grooms them into a worse situation.
It clearly is a problem right here in our own community, but Southwest Missouri is doing a good job of fighting against trafficking. In the past few years, local agencies and law enforcement have developed a collaborative approach to pursue traffickers and aid their victims, with more than 100 victims served by one nonprofit alone, Choices Medical Services, in just the past two years.
The state of Missouri also seems to be doing something right.
A new report from the Human Trafficking Institute shows that Missouri had more federal trafficking cases prosecuted last year than Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well as more convictions resulting from federal cases.
There’s no clear evidence for why that might be, but we don’t believe that Missouri necessarily has more trafficking than the other states. Perhaps this state simply has taken a more aggressive stance against trafficking.
We commend local law enforcement, justice system personnel and nonprofits who are on the front line every day in identifying and caring for victims of trafficking and helping to bring the traffickers to justice.
But it will take all of us to stem the tide. Those raids that the Joplin Police Department conducted on massage parlors last year? They were initiated thanks to tips from the community, a police detective told us.
Listed in today’s front page story are several ways that you can help fight trafficking in the Four-State Area. The most basic and important recommendation: If you see something, say something.
You just might help save someone’s life.