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FOR EXPERT COMMENT: Sentencing in Local Human-Trafficking Case Shows Grant Money at Work, MU Expert Says

Funds given to MU program helped professionals investigate Mid-Missouri incident

March 19th, 2012

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew, ChewJ@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Earlier this month, two individuals from Columbia were sentenced to time in prison after pleading guilty to selling a homeless minor into prostitution. Deb Hume, an associate teaching professor in the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program, says a grant received by MU and local agencies, including the Columbia police department, helped investigators examine the case that put the perpetrators behind bars.

In 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $2 million in grants to state and local organizations, including the University of Missouri’s MPH Program, to identify and help victims of human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of trafficking are exposed to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

“We received the grant in 2009, but it continues to have long-term effects,” said Hume, who also teaches in MU’s Department of Health Sciences in the School of Health Professions. “The grant helped us prepare a network to respond to incidents as they arise. The recent case reminds us how funds received by the university and other local agencies can help make Mid-Missouri a better, safer place to live.”

Hume said a challenge to investigating human-trafficking cases is that professionals don’t always recognize it.

“Professionals, such as police officers, hospital staff and social service agents, sometimes think they’re dealing with cases of child abuse, rape or juvenile delinquency,” Hume said. “Professionals need to make sure they’re investigating issues fully so they don’t miss additional victimization.”

Hume said the recent sentencing should serve as a reminder that Mid-Missouri is not immune to human trafficking. However, she cautions that individuals not become paranoid about the prevalence of human trafficking in the Midwest.

“As a community, state and country, we need to take a stand and say that human trafficking is unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated,” Hume said. “We need to increase understanding of what human trafficking is and how it can be prevented, recognized and prosecuted. We’re getting better at knowing how to respond, but we need to get better at prevention.”

Hume is co-chair of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. She teaches graduate classes at the University of Missouri about social determinants of health, violence against women and health disparities.

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