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Mo. attorney general targets human trafficking

ST. LOUIS (BP) — Missouri’s attorney general has drawn support from Southern Baptists for issuing regulations enforcing consumer protection laws to target human traffickers.

In April 3 comments made at an undisclosed human trafficking rescue site in the St. Louis area, Joshua Hawley likened human trafficking to modern day slavery, noting that each year, thousands of young women and girls are forced into commercial sexual exploitation — forced to provide sex for money.

“We need a new abolitionist movement to confront this oppression and turn it back,” Hawley said. “And I am here today to announce that Missouri will help lead the way.”

He noted, “It’s a bold new approach designed to open a new front in the fight against trafficking.”

The new regulations: make using a business as a front for trafficking illegal; make debt bondage illegal under Missouri’s consumer protection statutes; target those who induce victims to come to Missouri based on the false promise that a good job awaits, only to force them into commercial sex or slave labor.

John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), was present during the press conference, and echoed the need to combat trafficking.

“This is huge news that places our state on the cutting edge for protecting women and children from sexual predators who use this abhorrent crime as a tool to make money,” Yeats said.

“In our state,” he noted, “the sheer numbers of people caught up in this vile industry make a person want to weep over the iniquity of a culture that allows this form of slavery to go unchecked.”

Though the issue of human trafficking is growing in its awareness, the challenge is not new to Missouri Baptists. The Missouri Baptist Children’s Home has a ministry that helps victims of trafficking looking to escape, and Restoration House — a ministry of Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association — does the same.

In 2014, messengers to the MBC annual meeting passed a resolution condemning human trafficking, calling Baptists to pray for victims and — in action that is now coming to fruition — urging the state’s attorney general to aggressively enforce laws that prohibit such trafficking.

In their most recent resolution on human trafficking, messengers to the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting approved a resolution that included a call for Southern Baptists to support government policies to fight trafficking.

Daniel Darling of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) commended the initiative.

“Human trafficking is the silent evil happening in communities around our country, to vulnerable people created in the image of God,” said Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications, in written comments for Baptist Press.

“I am grateful for the courageous, relentless leadership of Attorney General Hawley in shining a light on this evil and his determination to use his office to bring perpetrators to justice,” he said. “His faithful Christian witness is an example for public servants everywhere.”

The attorney general’s office has set up a task force to enforce the new regulations and has set up a hotline (1-844-487-0492) available to anyone caught up in human trafficking or for anyone who may have witnessed human trafficking.