CENTER, Missouri (WGEM) — Sex trafficking is everywhere, including in the Tri-States. In fact, the number of reported cases in Missouri alone went up from 70 in 2015 to 233 in 2019, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
That’s one reason The Stop Trafficking Project Founder and President stopped by one northeast Missouri school Thursday to talk about the subject, hoping to stop students from becoming victims.
Students from Mark Twain Junior High School and High School learned about how they can be safe while on social media and what they can do when they feel unsafe, in a presentation brought by the Stop Trafficking Project.
Mark Twain High School Counselor Adria Palmer has been at the school for 21 years and a counselor for the last six years. She said she has seen the red flags of child sex trafficking in this area.
“We’ve had close calls here in Ralls County where kids are talking to people they don’t know online, setting up times to meet people in person that they don’t know. And so that was really scary to me,” Palmer said.
Stop Trafficking Project Founder and President Russ Tuttle said 100 percent of the victimized children they’ve worked with were trafficked online before any of the physical harm started. That’s why their vision is to end trafficking before it starts.
“We’ve seen arrests. We’ve actually identified 77 victimized children just through these presentations that came up and through a series of conversations, identify them to be in that situation, we’ve identified literally thousands of kids in that pre-stage,” Tuttle said.
The ‘Be Alert’ system is how they do it. It’s an acronym, to Be Active Learning Empowered Relentless Together.
“It’s in the 70th percentile, where kids after they experience one of our assemblies say, I now realize why I should not be engaging in this activity, and I’m not going to do it again,” Tuttle said. “It’s not solving the problem. We’re not one-day wonders to come in and solve these problems, but what it does it really opens the eyes of adults to understand what’s actually happening with our kids online.”
Palmer said the technology kids use is not going away, so it’s important everyone is aware of how to stay safe when they do use it.
“We also want our parents to be looking for those things. We want one, our parents to be educated, and our community members and our law enforcement to all be looking out for our kids,” Palmer said.
Tuttle said it’s key that you have open conversations with your kids, so they don’t have to feel like they’re stuck in uncomfortable situations alone, with no one to go to.
He said if your child missed the presentation, you can find all the materials online with resources that you can walk through with them.
For example: not adding people they don’t know, not meeting up with strangers, not sending nude pictures of themselves or others, because among other reasons, it’s against the law and finding ways to get help if they do find themselves in trouble.