JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sen. Jamilah Nasheed held a rally for survivors and stakeholders of human trafficking Wednesday morning. The Missouri Sex Trafficking Awareness Month rally has become a part of a General Assembly-wide effort to combat the form of modern-day slavery which usually forces children and women into lives of prostitution.
The senator said this kind of awareness was a key step in combatting human trafficking in the state.
“I truly believe… we can solve the problem of human trafficking in the state of Missouri when we make individuals aware that this is a serious problem.”
Nasheed has sponsored SB 341, which would prohibit the prosecution of minors forced into prosecution. The bill also requires those who patronize prostitutes under the age of 18 to be registered as sex offenders and elevates those who patronize any prostitute to be charged with a Class E felony rather than a Class A misdemeanor, a harsher offense. A Class E felony comes with a jail term up to four years, while a Class A misdemeanor only has a maximum sentence of a year.
Both of these measures are necessary according to Kris Wade, the executive director of Justice Project Kansas City and survivor of sex trafficking. While she agrees with harsher penalties on those who sell people, she also argues those on the demand side of the equation, the buyers, must also be more strictly punished for becoming involved in human trafficking.
“We’re punishing the predators who are trafficking victims, but the buyers, the demand side… those guys are fueling human trafficking,” she said.
Nasheed also offered SB 344, which would expunge criminal records of prostitution if the accused was under the influence of an outside agent.
The senator’s focus on human trafficking has become an ongoing mission of hers in the General Assembly; she hosted last year’s ceremony as well. However, the entire issue has garnered more traction over the years from widespread bipartisan support. Rep. Elijah Haahr’s spent more than a year identifying methods and potential pieces of legislation to combat the epidemic. Missouri had the 16th highest number of human trafficking cases reported in 2016, but most of the states with more cases – like California, Texas, Virginia and Illinois – have much larger populations.
Neither bill has been assigned to a committee yet.