JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri truck stops, bus stations, some hotels and other businesses would be required to hang posters advertising the national human trafficking hotline under the first bill passed by the state House this year.
The House on Wednesday voted 139-5 in favor of the bill, which now heads to the Senate.
Republican Rep. Patricia Pike said the goal of her bill is to increase victims’ access to the hotline and promote public awareness of human trafficking in the state, which she says is a hotspot because of its central location in the U.S. Missouri is bordered by eight states.
Pike, along with some of her peers in the House and some advocates, say the bill is a good first step in combatting the issue.
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“Getting that information to them is a big step in being able to communicate with them and rescue them,” Pike said of reaching victims through the posters.
Businesses that would be required to hang the poster also include strip clubs, hotels and motels cited as public nuisances for prostitution, airports and women’s health centers. Repeated noncompliance with the poster requirement could lead to an infraction.
Casey Alvarez, the director of a Springfield-based human trafficking advocacy organization, said after an earlier House hearing on Pike’s bill that “education fuels rescue.”
“You hear a lot of people say that awareness isn’t everything. It’s not,” said Alvarez. “But education helps people to take that step…. It encourages victims to self-report.”
Alvarez said more needs to be done beyond the poster requirement, and Pike said there are other bills pending in the Legislature to address human trafficking.
Alvarez cited issues with Missouri’s prostitution laws, which now allow for minors to be charged with the crime.
Several bills filed this session would grant immunity to minors from facing criminal charges for prostitution, and at least one would strengthen penalties for paying for sexual acts with children and require “patrons” to register as sex offenders. One proposal would ramp up prison sentences for some crimes committed during human trafficking, and another would allow victims of sex trafficking to expunge prostitution crimes from their records.