The founder of an organization that fights hunger and poverty worldwide urged Cape Girardeau residents Monday night to help eradicate human trafficking in St. Louis and other areas of the United States.
Pat Bradley, founder of St. Louis-based International Crisis Aid, spoke to roughly 50 people at La Croix Church about his organization’s latest endeavor — domestic human trafficking. While there are federal laws against human trafficking, they have not helped curb the practice in the United States, namely St. Louis, which was recently ranked as one of the nation’s biggest hubs for human trafficking, Bradley said.
“The laws are good, and the laws are tough,” Bradley said. “But they’re not being enforced.”
In 2009, a University of Pennsylvania study found that 300,000 American children are at risk of being exploited for commercial sex. Even if the government wanted to aid even a fraction of those children, it would not be able to do so because of a lack of federal funding, Bradley said.
That’s why the FBI approached Bradley, who helped organize houses in Ethiopia for victims of human trafficking, about setting up shelters in urban locations in the United States to accommodate victims.
“We have to put these girls somewhere besides juvenile detention centers,” he said, noting that, according to the FBI, there are only 49 beds nationwide for human trafficking victims.
The first shelter ICA is trying to establish is in St. Louis County, and the organization is $100,000 shy of opening its doors to 10 victims, Bradley said. The licensing and other clerical measures have been taken care of, and the organization has $150,000 saved for the shelter. The $100,000 needed would cover operating costs for up to nine months, he said.
Housing up to 12 girls for a year would cost $500,000, he said, noting that he is unsure when the shelter’s doors will open.
“We’re about two years overdue,” Bradley said.
Bradley said that he would like to open shelters in Atlanta, Miami and Orange County, Calif. The St. Louis shelter would accommodate victims from all over Missouri, he said. In Missouri, a person is considered a victim of a human trafficking if they are under 17 and have solicited sex, Bradley said.
“It’s not just in St. Louis,” Bradley said. “It’s your neighbor, your nieces, it can be anyone.”
Bradley said human trafficking is a problem in Missouri because it is a hub thanks to its location near the center of the country. Bradley said he was unsure how much human trafficking goes on in Cape Girardeau. There has been one reported case of soliciting prostitution in Cape Girardeau in the past year, according to police documents.
Bradley’s experience both in the U.S. and abroad prompted Linda McKinnis to start a Southeast Missouri chapter of ICA to raise awareness of human trafficking in the region and help raise money for the St. Louis shelter. A golf scramble is in the works, and a run may happen soon, McKinnis said.
“This is just something that is near to my heart,” she said. Human trafficking is “something that’s everywhere and needs our attention.”
Source: Southeast Missourian