SPRINGFIELD, Mo. With recent raids for suspected human trafficking on more than a dozen massage parlors in Springfield, the disturbing issue has hit home. Many in Springfield spent the afternoon learning more about human trafficking at a conference that has been planned for several months.
180 people registered for CoxHealth's free human trafficking conference Friday afternoon. They got to hear firsthand from a sex trafficking survivor. Kris Wade was 18 and at a Chicago train station for only minutes, when she says a man offered her a place to stay and a meal.
Before she knew it, she was under the control of a motorcycle gang that forced her into prostitution.
Wade shared some of the things that made her vulnerable to traffickers.
"I just really had no respect for authority and like a lot of 18 year old kids, I considered myself queen of the universe and pretty much knew everything in the world there was to know. And I think that couple with my undeveloped teenage brain and my risk taking, thrill seeking capabilities, that made me vulnerable to these guys," says Wade.
Wade's advice for parents is to build trust-based relationships with your kids from a young age, and teach them to say no and not show vulnerability to bullies, which is what pimps and traffickers are. Wade also says, "Their kids need to know that they love them unconditionally, that if they get in trouble, it's ok to tell their parents if they're in a difficult situation. Parents need to support their kids no matter what." She says her parents were loving and supportive, which she says ultimately helped her get away from the trafficking.
Wade is now the president of The Justice Project in Kansas City, working to combat trafficking. She and other presenters focused on teaching those in healthcare to look for signs like torture injuries, tattoos showing ownership, burns, and multiple STDs.
CoxHealth Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are working to adjust their protocols to best serve trafficking victims. Lana Garcia, a CoxHealth Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, says "This is actually something that we're seeing here, not to mention something that I have seen. I've already worked with a lot of assault victims, people that have fit the description of what she's talking about, people that have fit some of those same characteristics," says Garcia.
Garcia says for a trafficking victim, talking to medical staff or police could pose a serious safety risk because of the threats victims face. Staff try to get the person alone, perhaps during an exam, because they may be under the control of the person who brought them for treatment. Even if a potential victim chooses not to report, medical staff still try to offer help.
Garcia shared the story of how one staff member reached out to a potential trafficking victim. "He just asked her some indirect questions like, are you safe at home? Is anyone hurting you? And she didn't report; she didn't want to expand on that, which is typical, because we know how fearful it is to be in this situation. He did give her some resources to Polaris, which is a national hotline, and he said she folded it up and just shoved it into the bottom of her wallet," says Garcia.
That same patient told the staff member she appreciated the respect she was shown. Garcia says showing respect and taking the initiative to dig a little deeper into what might be going on could be empowering for a victim and make them feel their worth.
To report human trafficking, you can call the Missouri State Highway Patrol or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888.
A national initiative over the past month led to 1,000 arrests connected to human trafficking and prostitution. Wade says there must be tougher penalties to deter buyers, because the demand is what keeps the sex trafficking industry going.