ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. - Human trafficking is a crime that knows no boundaries. Law enforcers across the region are working to educate the public on what to look for and how to help put an end to the crime.
Public service announcements will be posted to social media in December featuring police officers from departments in St. Charles and St. Louis counties, the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and the US Attorney. Officers will share stories of local victims of human trafficking.
"We've had people in our community that have been targeted and trafficked," said Sgt. Rob Kendall, O’Fallon Police Department. "These are the kind of stories that you'll find on both coasts, middle America, it's not an exclusive problem."
US Attorney Jeff Jensen said his office has prosecuted about 20 human traffickers in federal court this year.
"It's a significant problem here," Jensen said.
Law enforcement agencies in St. Charles County have been creating PSAs on a variety of topics over the past few months. They wanted to expand the message to a larger audience and tackle a problem impacting the whole region.
The videos aim to educate the public about the warning signs of human trafficking and how to report suspected trafficking. Officials urge people to watch out for unaccompanied minors in places like casinos, truck stops, and hotels.
"We have a few hotel operators who are very cooperative with us and a few that aren't," said St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar.
Kendall said traffickers look for "easy targets" or people with low self-esteem, gain control of them, and then refuse to let them leave. Lohmar, who has interviewed victims of human trafficking, said many feel forced to comply with their traffickers for financial reasons.
"So we have people who are vulnerable in a lot of areas, who are easily susceptible to people who can manipulate and prey on their worst fears," said Lohmar.
Law enforcement wants the public to feel empowered to help victims of human trafficking by reporting suspicious activity to police and send a strong message to those who traffick people.
"The message is clear: they're going to prison for a long time," said Jensen.
The PSAs will be published on the social media accounts of local law enforcement agencies throughout the month of December.