Truck driver links sex trafficking victim to anti-trafficking coalition

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When a Columbia truck driver was approached at the Midway Truck Stop on May 19, by another man offering a good time, the driver knew something was wrong with the situation.

This man had pointed to a young woman with tangled hair, who had a scared look on her face.

“I wasn’t interested in any way,” said the driver, who asked to remain anonymous.

However, he asked to speak to the young woman after seeing her. He gave the woman her business card with her phone number and told her to call him if she wanted to get away from what was happening to her.

“She looked like she didn’t want to do what he wanted her to do,” said the driver. “I could tell she didn’t want to be where she was.”

Plus – subscribers only: Human Trafficking “Did Not Happen Suddenly” in Colombia, Says Victims Advocate

Two days later he got the call.

The driver wished to remain anonymous to protect the woman, his temporary living situation, himself and his family. The driver – when he is not on the road – and the woman work with Central Missouri Coalition Against Human Trafficking find alternative accommodation and help for the woman.

“I don’t want medals, publicity, none of that. I just did what anyone should do,” he said.

After the driver picked up the woman, he started making phone calls, but had difficulty finding a place that could help him. A staff member at Burrell Behavioral Health was able to put the driver in touch with the coalition and co-chair Nanette Ward after searching the internet.

“I didn’t really know (the coalition) or would have called them first,” said the driver. “Nanette came like a champion, took over.”

The driver recognizes that the situation he encounters is an everyday occurrence.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

After: The rescue of 11 victims of human trafficking in Colombia was part of a months-long investigation. It is not finished

How does the coalition help?

When the coalition first connects with a human trafficking survivor, they work to build trust with that individual, Ward said.

“We always make sure they know we are there for them,” she said. “There is a sense of trust (in) just being with an organization that exists specifically for victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

The woman appears to be happier now that she is no longer a victim of trafficking, the driver said.

“She’s starting to eat. She’s really all smiles. She’s very grateful that she ran away. She’s got a big heart.” he said.

Early connections aren’t about verifying a person’s story, Ward said. Help must first be provided before details are gathered. In this particular woman’s case, she is a candidate for a long-term recovery residential home for survivors of sex trafficking.

“They exist all over the country, and there are actually some of these programs right here in Missouri,” Ward said, adding that the woman had no direct ties to the central Missouri area. “She has nothing to lose and everything to gain from participating in any of these programs.”

There are at least two long-term residential programs in Missouri – one in Kansas City and one in St. Louis. Restoration House of Greater Kansas City has a faith-based program which welcomes adult women and surviving underage girls. The Covering House in St. Louis focuses on underage girls who are survivors of sex trafficking.

Ward did not specify which long-term program she helped the woman apply to, noting that there are plenty.

Residential programs last from one to two years. While it was an important decision, the survivor appeared willing to participate, Ward said.

“She was very interested and very willing to consider right away. In fact, we have already applied for one of them and are waiting to hear it,” she said.

Recognize the signs

How can a person watch for signs of human trafficking? In most cases, if you have a hunch about something, trust it, Ward said.

“If it doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t sound right, it probably doesn’t,” she said.

Ward recommends taking as much detail as possible about a situation so that you can report it to authorities. If a person can speak safely with someone they think is a victim, for example in the toilet, they should do so, she said.

“We can always keep learning and telling ourselves what we’re ready to do – make a report, call someone or pay more attention and take notes,” Ward said. “You also hope the law enforcement person has taken the training. We all need to cooperate around this issue.”

What resources are available?

The coalition serves the central Missouri region. His office is located at 503 E. Nifong Blvd., Suite H, Unit 206, near the Nifong Hy-Vee. You can reach him by phone through the local helpline at 866-590-5959.

There is a national hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Victims and survivors can also contact by texting 233733. The hotline has a directory of references of anti-trafficking organizations, as well as.

the Missouri Attorney General’s Office Has Human Trafficking Task Force, of which Ward is a member. It contains resources that victims and survivors can use to connect to services.

Victims and survivors can also get in touch with the Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation. He has a Missouri resource page, which breaks down the resource lists by county. the Boone County Guide, for example, has details on more than human trafficking resources. It also contains information on homelessness and youth shelters, mental health and addiction services and more.

Local businesses can also download a Stop Human Trafficking poster for display. from the Missouri Department of Public Safety. A law of 2018 imposed the creation of the website as a resource. Trafficking in human beings can be based on sex or work.

Businesses expected to display the sign include hotels and motels, sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs, transportation hubs such as bus stations, doctor’s offices and hospitals, truck stops and rest areas, among others.

Personal, medical and mental health needs assessment

The next step for this recent survivor includes assessing her personal and medical needs. The driver helps where he can, Ward said, noting that he was able to get him new clothes and personal hygiene products.

Regarding medical care, Ward tries to find out if the woman was taking any medication and if those prescriptions are expired, as well as dental care.

“She’s having a toothache right now. We’re new to eye care,” Ward said. “These are all things that we go through with every survivor. Mental health needs as well as medical and personal care needs.”

Ward and the coalition are waiting to see if the survivor will be accepted into the long-term residential facility. If the woman is accepted into the long-term facility, it will take care of all of her needs, Ward said.

“These are great programs and great opportunities for healing and recovery,” Ward said.

If the woman needs other services in the meantime, the coalition maintains relationships with medical offices and personal care professionals, such as hairdressers, who offer their services for free or on a sliding scale. The coalition is also working to find alternative accommodation for the woman, as the place where she currently resides is temporary.

“It is unusual for her to have this safe space for a week, but we have had survivors who have been able – on rare occasions – to stay with their families, but in most places they have no safe space to go to when they’re out (traffic), ”Ward said.

The are links between domestic violence and human trafficking and thus, some survivors may end up in shelters for domestic violence.

The coalition’s ties to free or sliding-scale medical service providers are due to the fact that survivors of trafficking often do not have insurance, Ward said. The driver, during her calls, came up against reception structures that could not take care of her because the woman had no insurance.

Even if a survivor does not have an urgent medical need, they still need a primary care assessment, Ward said.

The coalition works with a primary care physician’s office by paying a monthly fee to help defray the costs of the exam. The coalition also has a connection with the Compass health network to get survivors set up with a sliding fee scale to support medical services.

What about law enforcement?

The driver did not approach authorities about the situation because it is something the woman has to decide, he said.

Ward agreed.

“There is this option, and it is important information to pass on to the police … but naturally, it is not quite the very first thing because we are responding to other immediate needs”, she declared.

If a survivor goes to law enforcement, it may be a case where there is not enough evidence to bring an action. The are more victims of human trafficking at the national level than there are prosecutions or convictions, according to a report by the US State Department.

And some survivors may never turn to law enforcement. One of the goals of the coalition is to get help for survivors first, which includes mental health services. A survivor may not yet be in a location where they can easily or feel comfortable talking to law enforcement, if at all, Ward said.

“It’s definitely one of the connections we can make when a survivor is ready to do it,” she said of making contact with law enforcement.

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