St. Louis Law Enforcement Say Sex Trafficking is Happening within Local Schools
ST LOUIS —
St. Louis has become a hub for underage sex trafficking and according to local law enforcement, many people would be stunned to find out who is pimping out these girls as they could be someone you know.
"It's true slavery," said Pat Bradley, CEO of Crisis Aid International in St. Louis, "when we first opened our home four years ago girls were primarily being sold on the internet like Craigslist, and Backpage but we are seeing a transition."
By transition he means, exploitation happening within your own child's school.
"County high schools, city high schools, different high schools around the states are seeing girls recruiting their fellow students," Bradley said.
Add to that, the world of social media which law enforcement said has made their efforts to tackle the issue even more challenging.
" It's a lot easier to recruit that way especially the recruitment amongst just juveniles themselves," said Sergeant Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police Department.
Kavanaugh said that from January 2014 through November 2016 the department's task force has investigated in access of 300 cases regarding the potential for sex trafficking in the Eastern District of Missouri. The task force also arrested 107 potential traffickers/promoters of prostitution and identified 216 actual and potential victims of sex trafficking.
"When you have kids in impoverished areas or kids dealing with problems at home abuse or sexual abuse they typically find a way out of that home and this is a way out of that home," said Detective Keaton Strong with the City of St. Louis Police Department's Intelligence Unit.
Police said that Missouri's geographical location also plays a large role in why St. Louis is typically graded higher for commercial sex.
"Statistics in this area are hard." said Kavanaugh, "because we have all the major highways come through, north side south east and west. A lot of people when they think of human trafficking they think over seas, but they don't realize the impact locally here in the United States."
Bradley said that sex trafficking seems to be more prevalent in the confines of the city, which city police said they are working toward fighting.
"There is no way to actually spot it because most of it is behind closed doors," Strong said, "our Chief is very aggressive as it pertains to the human trafficking aspect. As soon as we get reports we investigate those reports and if we find out that something is taking place where it's related to human trafficking then we move on those reports and to really get down to being able help victims of sex trafficking and to be able to have locations for them to go to in a last minute type of situation."
Bradley said that while law enforcement plays a big role in trying to put a stop to this type of modern day slavery and working closely with the aid center, more can be done.
"About 95 percent of our girls come through that relationship," Bradley said, "with city we've only had about one maybe two and not sure what's going on there but what we need is to get more resources to our law enforcement so that they can go after this crime because to me it's a resource issue."
Allman Reporter Aisha Khan asked police and Bradley about clientele, as in who are they and where they come from.
"Clients are everybody unfortunately," said Kavanaugh, "businessman, policemen, politicians."
"I've had girls who've told me they've had youth pastors as their clients," Bradley said.
Police said a lot of times the people or pimps who are in charge of running a sex trafficking ring are looking to make money as an extra income that sometimes for example helps pay for their own education that they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.
"We have come across girls from grad students at Wash U (Washington University), SLU (St. Louis University) students and they were in their Master's programs when we were arresting them," Kavanaugh explained, "a lot of that stems from, ' oh my mom and dad are paying enough and I'm not going to ask for any more money."
"For parents you really need to know what your kids are doing on social media," Bradley said, "I've been told that Facebook is the number one way of recruiting new victims so just think about that."