Study exposes economics of sex trafficking in cities like Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A study on eight major cities in the United States, including Kansas City, reveals sex trafficking generates nearly $300 million a year in those areas alone.

The study by the Urban Institute involved interviews with people arrested for sex trafficking and law enforcement in San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Miami and Kansas City.

"There’s pimps beating prostitutes out here every day and it’s like the community has just gotten immune to it that it's okay,” Bobbi Jo Reed said, who became a prostitute during her 20s.

She was addicted to drugs and alcohol and her boyfriend offered her an out.

“Before I even knew it, this guy had turned everything around and beat me up and told me that I was going to get out there and make some money,” she said.

Reed made $400 a day.

According to the study released Wednesday, some prostitutes in Kansas City only make $20 a transaction, enough to buy drugs and pay off their pimps.

"They’re not doing it because they want to,” Reed said, “they’re doing it because they’re made to."

Kansas City has become a central hub for sex trafficking. Highways I-70 and I-35 are the gateways to other large cities in the Midwest like St. Louis and Indianapolis.

The biggest moneymaking gateway is online.  Pimps advertise through popular sites like Craigslist and Backpage and can make up to $300 an hour.

In Kansas, sex traffickers face a 25-year sentence; in Missouri they face up to 15 years in prison.

Although Reed has long been out of the business, she said not much has changed out on the streets.

"It’s almost like a dog being beaten and the dog will run off after the beating, but after a few minutes it’s almost like you forget that you got beaten and you run right back to that person because they’re your owner," she said.

Law enforcement officers in Wyandotte and Johnson counties will begin a new training program later this month to learn how to determine whether a prostitute is a victim of sex trafficking.

Before this year, officers in Kansas placed victims in jail waiting cells, however, now they must place them in a separate room where they can talk to counselors.

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