Missouri attorney general outlines human trafficking fight

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced several measures on Monday that he says will help combat human trafficking in the state.

Hawley's initiatives include issuing new consumer protection rules, creating a new anti-trafficking unit under the attorney general's office and establishing an anti-trafficking task force to combat commercial sex and forced labor, according to a statement from Hawley's office.

The consumer protection rules would make it illegal to create a business as a front for a trafficking operation. They would also prohibit debt bondage -- a practice where people lend money or valuables to a victim and use it to coerce debtors into commercial sex or forced labor -- and make it illegal to induce people to come to Missouri for a fake job to force them into labor or commercial sex.

An anti-trafficking unit composed of local prosecutors and police will enforce the regulations. A separate, permanent task force will be chaired by the attorney general and comprises of local prosecutors, police and leaders from the nonprofit sector.

"Bold though these initiatives are, they are only a beginning," Hawley said. "This modern-day work of abolition must be the work of many hands. To be successful, all of us must be involved. Human trafficking can only be stopped together."

The attorney general made the announcement at a safe house for trafficking victims in St. Louis. He was accompanied by a trafficking survivor Katie Rhoades who was coerced into trafficking in Portland, Oregon, and then sent to San Francisco, California. She escaped after three years and now leads a nonprofit agency that helps trafficking victims in St. Louis, the statement said.

In 2016, more than 26,700 calls were made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Almost 2,000 were from Missouri.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 98 percent of the 4.5 million victims of human trafficking worldwide are female.