Calling human trafficking “modern-day slavery,” a group of law enforcement officials and advocates gathered Monday, April 3, to unveil a series of steps designed to combat the problem.

The measures, detailed by state Attorney General Josh Hawley, include new consumer protection rules, an anti-trafficking unit and an anti-trafficking task force.

“This is the message I have for the traffickers: Do not come to our state. Do not prey upon our children. Do not commit your crimes here. If you do, we will find you out, and we will prosecute you,” Hawley said during an announcement at a St. Louis-area safe house for victims of trafficking.

The new consumer protection rules will target several areas: the use of businesses as “fronts” for trafficking; debt bondage, in which traffickers lend money or other valuables to a victim and then use it to coerce them into prostitution or forced labor; and bringing people to Missouri under the pretense of a fake job.

The measures also provide for new civil and criminal penalties for traffickers.

The duty of reinforcing these new consumer protection rules will be assigned to a new anti-trafficking unit in the Attorney General’s office, which will include local prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

As head of a new permanent task force, Hawley will work with a team composed of law enforcement officials, local prosecutors, social-service providers, victims’ advocates and individual human-trafficking survivors.

Funding for the initiative will come from the attorney general office’s consumer protection funds.

Task force member Chief Danny Whiteley of the Poplar Bluff Police Department said the similarities between trafficking today and that of the past is disturbing.

“Human trafficking is nothing short of modern day slavery. It has no gender, racial or age limitation,” Whiteley said.

Hawley echoed the sentiment, saying, “This is really a modern day abolitionist movement.”

Whiteley also stressed the importance of looking at the issue from a financial perspective.

“To cut the head of the snake off, and make a difference, it’s just like a narcotics investigation. You always have to follow the money trail,” Whiteley said.

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