KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sat down for a one-on-one interview with 41 Action News this week to discuss how the state has changed its reporting system for human trafficking violations.
Missourians can now call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888), which helps coordinate local, state and federal law enforcement resources to respond to those violations.
"We did a pretty exhaustive review of the options. Because it’s fully staffed because it works with different agencies, because it’s cross-jurisdictional, it is the most effective and efficient way to get that information to law enforcement," Schmitt said.
He highlighted one recent success story involving a public transportation passenger and someone using that hotline.
"A public transpiration employee noticed something was amiss this spring... By the time the passenger disembarked from the public transportation, law enforcement was there, highway patrol was there, and a victim advocate was there. That’s a day that will change the life of that victim forever because an alert citizen noticed something was wrong," Schmitt explained.
Missouri is a prime location for trafficking, according to the Attorney General.
"We’ve got major interstates running through the state, a lot of rail lines, a lot of public transportation. An important thing to understand is human trafficking doesn’t look like something you might see in a movie. These are typically young women who are being financially exploited or maybe come here from another country with the promise of an education or employment," Schmitt said. "Then are put in situations where they’re financially exploited. Or there are scenarios where individuals are grooming young women and take advantage of them. A lot of it centers on financial exploitation initially and leads to other illicit activities."
Missouri saw more than 200 cases of human trafficking last year, and Schmitt is hopeful that the NHTH website is helping to educate communities across the state about recognizing signs and making those important phone calls.
He's also been pleased by the coordination with other state attorneys general, as they all work together to confront a challenging problem for their offices.
"There’s a lot of information sharing and best practices. I think the AG community in particular, this isn’t partisan. Any of those political divides, this is about people and rescuing people from a really terrible existence," Schmitt said.
Several Kansas City-based organizations can also help human trafficking victims. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please reach out to Restoration House at 816-793-0500, Veronica's Voice at 913-214-1401 or Willow Domestic Violence Center at 800-770-3030.