According to the U.S. Department of Justice, St. Louis is a hot spot of sex trafficking activity, one of the top 20 in the country. “The thing about St. Louis that is a little bit different is that we’ve got Highway 44, Highway 70, Highway 40 – all these main highways coming through to get to other places,” Detective Sergeant Adam Kavanaugh of the St. Louis County Police Department said, explaining that pimps tend to move their victims around frequently and so to them St. Louis is seen as a “good stopping point for them to make some money and continue to move on to the rest of the country.”
Nationwide, the Department of Justice estimates that 300,000 children may become victims of sex trafficking every year. Most prostitutes enter the sex trade before they are eighteen. Not only are pimps responding to demand by recruiting minors, they also like younger girls because they are easier to manipulate, said victim advocate, consultant and sex trafficking survivor Katie Rhodes. While sex trafficking victims may not be locked up in a room somewhere, they are still controlled by their pimps, often through fear and violence, she said.
As Nix Conference & Meeting Management principal Molly Hackett said, “It is a billion dollar industry and it follows an economic principal no different than any other business of supply and demand and distribution.” Hackett is one of the leaders of the St. Louis company’s Exchange Initiative, which works to end sex trafficking. Nix Conference & Meeting Management is trying to limit access to one resource the sex trafficking industry continues to need, even after moving from the streets to the Web: hotels.
“We’ve asked that [hoteliers] sign a code of conduct where they do training for their frontline staff,” Hackett said of the initiative. “We did a training session here in St. Louis, and it was amazing what they had seen for many years … but didn’t know what to do with the information.” One of the most important things people can do to prevent sex trafficking is to talk about it. “It’s been undercover for so long and whispered about but as shocking as it is, it needs to be discussed,” Hackett said. “Education is clearly the first step in where we’re going with this.”
Learn more at Camille Phillips’ and Alex Heuer’s St. Louis Public Radio article: St. Louis Is A Hot Spot For Sex Trafficking: A Discussion About Efforts To End The Trade.