ST. LOUIS – Sex trafficking is happening in the St. Louis region and law enforcement say it's on the rise in Missouri.
Since 2007, 3,292 human trafficking cases have been reported in Missouri, with a high concentration St. Louis. It's the second-fastest growing crime and the unreported cases far outweigh what is being reported locally.
“Once a kid is lured in, our children are being sold for sex 15-40 times a day,” said Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, CEO of Selah Way & Selah Freedom.
The Selah Way Foundation is launching its first regional program in St. Louis. On Wednesday, they hosted a forum to train local organizations and leaders. Their goal is to help strengthen current programs and start ones that don’t exist.
“One in 10 kids in St. Louis is keeping a secret of sexual abuse, growing up with this, and not knowing what love is,” Fisher Good said. “And being vulnerable and groomed to be open to all the wrong things.”
The Florida-based group operates safe houses for girls and women ages K-12. They also fund awareness education, law enforcement, and preventable programs.
Breanna Cole, a sex trafficking survivor, said she was lured as a teenager by a guy, which is common.
“It happens. It's real. Not just overseas. It's in our backyards,” she said.
According to the Selah Way Foundation, the entry age to sex trafficking is 12 to 14, and 80 to 90 percent of the victims are girls. Approximately 80 percent of kids who run away from home are approached by a trafficker or predator within 48 hours after doing so.
“They're plucked up, under the covering of … they call them ‘Romeo pimps.’ They're like, ‘He loves me. He might use me this way and they're a bunch of us but he loves me,’” Fisher Good said.
The Selah Way Foundation is endorsing legislation they hope is passed in Washington DC that would make preventable education about sex trafficking mandatory for grades K-12. It’s already been passed in Florida and California.
For information, contact selahfreedom.com.