What does human trafficking look like in rural Missouri?

Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – An undercover human trafficking operation has led to two victims being rescued and a Missouri man being arrested.  

The Platte County prosecutor reports 29-year-old Sean D. Green faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Investigators say the break-in this case happened during an undercover operation at the Argosy Casino on Aug. 26 in the Kansas City area.  

WDAF in Kansas City reports undercover officers met up with the victims. They told officers during an interview they were routinely sent on dates by an individual by the name of “Huss,” an alias used by the suspect. 

One woman explained that she would receive text messages from the suspect directing her to a location, with no knowledge of the details of the commercial sex deal negotiated by him. 

She told authorities the defendant would threaten to kill her if she did not return with the money she received for engaging in the sex acts. Court documents say Green had threatened to kill the woman’s mother.  

The victim also reported instances where Green held a gun to her head and a knife to her throat. 

The sting operation was part of “Operation United Front,” which was organized by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Highway Patrol.  

Operation United Front was conducted in late August. On August 27th, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced over 100 arrests and 47 victims had been rescued across 12 states.  

In Springfield, a local human trafficking advocate says the details of those cases are similar to stories she hears from victims every day in the Ozarks.  

“Anything that a person is vulnerable for and they need can be exchanged for some kind of sexual exploitation,” says Jenifer Sturdivan with STAND Against Trafficking.  

Sturdivan human trafficking can be common in rural areas like the Ozarks where traffickers can easily find and prey on vulnerable people.  

“For people that are homeless or for people that don’t have a job or need something, that’s a vulnerability. And if there aren’t resources to help them meet that, then one of the things that traffickers look for is a way to swoop in and say, ‘Hey I can meet this need for you, you just need to do this for me.”  

She says human trafficking is common in cities like Kansas City and Springfield too, but not in ways you may think.  

Sturdivan says the highway and interstate system do play a factor, however, Sturdivan says she learned through speaking with victims that trafficking doesn’t often start with someone being snagged at a truck stop.  

“It’s more relational than that,” she adds. “There’s a grooming process. It’s not that you just see somebody and snatch them up. The grooming process is relational.” 

She says in both rural and urban areas, grooming can many times start with a friendly face coming up to you in a public place. 

“In those ways, (traffickers) are very business-minded, but they aren’t going to come up to you as a business person, they are going to come up to you as grandma and grandpa who need help with their cell phone. They are going to come up to you in ways that they can innocently, supposedly come up to you and start a conversation and gain your trust.” 

Sturdivan says the same tactic can be used by a trafficker sending a simple message on social media. 

“Advice as far as red flags are: don’t, no matter what you’re age is, don’t talk to anybody you don’t know on social media that you haven’t met in person first. That is the biggest lure for traffickers.” 

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