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Local support organization speaks on the struggles of human trafficking victims following rescues

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Posted at 4:44 PM, Aug 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-28 19:52:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — The Missouri Attorney General’s office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol successfully completed an anti-human trafficking operation Thursday night into Friday morning.

Operation United Front was a simultaneous effort across 12 states and its law enforcement agencies, which led to 102 arrests and the rescue of 47 victims, including two minors.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt says Missouri played a vital role in training other states during months of planning.

“We generally relied upon undercover officers arranging dates or meet up with potential human trafficking victims,” Schmitt said. “Or posed as victims themselves and arrested buyers of traffickers.”

Victims across all participating states were United States citizens ranging from minors to adult women. In Missouri specifically, officers conducted a victim-centric operation at a Kansas City commercial business. It led to two arrests, four rescue victims and the treatment of 11 others.

“What does a victim-centric approach mean? It means that we work together to get them the help that they need including healthcare, drug treatment, to help their children. All of this to break the cycle,” Schmitt said.

Locally in Kansas City, Veronica’s Voice is one of many organizations that help victims of human trafficking. It is their focus to provide a new way forward as victims of human trafficking find healing.

“It is a nearly impossible process without the intervention of a program that will come alongside and support them in their recovery,” said Executive Director Lucy Bloom. “It’s very difficult for them to identify themselves as a victim — for them to blame anybody other than themselves.”

Bloom says “sting” operations like this are crucial tactics that can help free victims from long-term abuse. State and federal assistance are crucial in continuing their mission at the local level.

“The elected officials are the ones that are in those positions to be able to create the effective laws that, when implemented, will allow us to surface and address demand and reduce the demand,” Bloom said.

Bloom says traffickers look for points of vulnerability in their victims. They build trust and convince their victims they can fill their needs.

“Sometimes they are posing as, ‘I have a job opportunity for you. I see your need to get a job and make money quickly — I can help you do that,'” Bloom said.

According to the U.S. State Department, there are 24.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide at any given time. But Bloom says due to the secretive nature of the industry, such statistics are actually just the tip of the iceberg.

She says this is why community policing is a must along with state and federal assistance. In fact, volunteers at Veronica’s Voice will be canvassing local businesses with booklets of missing persons from the area and ask people if they recognize them.

“We see a lot of family members, and even friends … They’ll look back and see all those signs were there, that this individual was slipping, and sometimes we feel helpless to know how to intervene,” Bloom said.

Bloom says some indicators of illicit activity may be peculiar hours of operation, covered-up windows, workers being transported together to and from the business, and streams of customers going in together.

Some signs of victims being manipulated by traffickers may include no explanation for where they have been, when they are tied to their phone and seem to be reporting back to one specific person, and sudden access to expensive gifts.

Attorney General Schmitt says falling into human trafficking often starts with financial vulnerability.

If someone is showing signs of unhealthy dependency or reliance on someone, recognize the signs and reach out for help.