Last week, both William Woods University and Westminster College had speakers who addressed human trafficking. All emphasized it's going on in the community right now, even if no one notices.
"We are not any different from any other community that has prostitution going on," said Nanette Ward, founder of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. "We have families who out of desperation and need for money sell kids."
By "we," she means right here in Mid-Missouri. While she doesn't have exact statistics for Callaway County, Ward knows sex trafficking goes on here.
"Anywhere there are truck stops — there's trafficking that goes on at truck stops," Ward said. "Our local law enforcement tell us there's prostitution going on in all of our hotels and motels. There's a high prevalence of purchasing people for sex, and children included. The everyday person doesn't seem to realize how pervasive it is."
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports so far in 2016, it's had 79 sex trafficking cases reported to it from Missouri.
Chad John, an FBI agent from the Jefferson City satellite office, is concerned numbers could rise, especially with the availability of anonymous chat apps like Kik.
"It's a huge resource for traffickers that want to pull youth into their environment," John said. "They could pretend to be someone else."
He asked parents to be cautious of letting children interact with people on the internet, because a predator might begin the grooming process there.
Jessica Neely has firsthand experience with finding vulnerable young women. While she's now escaped the porn and sex work industries and works as an anti-porn advocate, there was a time when Twitter and other social media tools were her prowling grounds.
"I didn't care who I hurt," she said.
At age 23, Neely was sexually assaulted in a parking lot. As she sought to cope with the experience, she began having frequent casual sex and eventually stumbled into the porn industry. After "aging out," she began running an escort service, recruiting barely legal girls.
She chose people who were desperate to make a quick buck, people who were insecure.
"It's all about finding the imperfections," she said.
John explained that among youths, certain groups are especially vulnerable. These include ones who lack attention at home, are impoverished, are hooked on illegal substances or have been abused.
With minors, any type of involvement in the sex industry is automatically labelled sex trafficking.
"Minors can't consent," John said.
However, adults can be trafficked as well.
"Even people who might not seem to be at risk could get hooked up with a boyfriend and groomed over a period of time, and then might end up being compromised and bonded to the person through the trauma," Ward said.
Those who are in the country illegally — or legally, but lack resources and speak little English — are also vulnerable, as well as the homeless.
When the victim is an adult, the situation is sex trafficking (rather than prostitution) if one of these three elements is present — much the same as with labor trafficking.
1. Force: If someone is being made to participate in sex acts against his or her will, is prevented from leaving by his or her "pimp," doesn't get to choose with whom they participate in sex acts or is beaten and/or denied medical care, they're being trafficked.
2. Fraud: If the terms of an agreement are violated — for example, a woman signs on to do pornography but is made to do escort work on the side, or isn't paid — the victim is being trafficked.
3. Coercion: If the victim's threatened with violence against their person or their family, or if they're being blackmailed, it's trafficking.
Jennifer Lynch, an FBI agent with the St. Louis satellite office and founder of St. Louis's first federal human trafficking task force, said she sees number three frequently. In fact, it can keep victims from speaking out even after escaping a bad situation.
"Do you go back to your mom and say 'Hey, I've been sleeping with guys for money'?" she asked rhetorically.
She said St. Louis has significant amounts of sex trafficking, with "Oriental Massage" parlors and seedy motel meet ups abounding.
Recently, she took down a pimp named Carron Primus, who is due to be sentenced in January.
"The judge calls him Karen, which annoys him to no end," Lynch said.
Primus met a girl and wooed her into being his girlfriend. Then he began asking her to sleep with men for money.
"There are two kinds of pimps," Lynch explained. "There are gorilla pimps, who beat the daylights out of their girls. Then there are finesse pimps, who groom and convince girls they love him. Carron was a bit of both."
It started with two men. She was making $300 to $600 a night, and Primus pocketed it all. Soon he'd amped up to six men a night. He got her hooked on heroin and cocaine, which helped her cope. He hit her.
The FBI set up a meeting with the girl on backpage.com, pretending to be setting up an encounter. They arrived and arrested Primus, who was waiting outside in his car.
While they managed to indict Carron for racketeering, he took a plea deal and will receive five years in prison.
"Sadly, she went back on the streets," Lynch said.
Organizations like Ward's offer hope, however.
CMSHTC speaks at hospitals, churches, schools and many other places, spreading awareness about how to spot a person in danger of being trafficked and how to avoid being trafficked. The organization also helps support survivors by linking them up with services that can help them and providing legal advocacy.
The FBI is working hard to help victims, as well.
"We don't just turn our backs on the victims and focus on the bad guys," John promised.