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Posted: June 08, 2009

COLUMBIA, MO - After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Recently, HHS awarded more than $2 million in grants to state and local organizations, including the University of Missouri, to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

Compared to urban areas, less information exists about the extent of trafficking in rural areas of the U.S.," said Deb Hume, instructor in the MU Masters of Public Health (MPH) Program. "In the rural Midwest, there is the perception that this problem is confined to large cities or the coasts."

The MU MPH Program received the grant as part of the HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Regional Program. The purpose of the program is to enhance anti-trafficking efforts in the U.S. by building regional capacity for the identification and service of victims.

According to ACF, Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of trafficking are young children, teenagers, men and women, and are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide.

Identifying victims is difficult because of the covert nature of trafficking operations and minimal understanding of trafficking that occurs in the United States, Hume said. For example, people may think of trafficking as something that happens in other countries, or they may perceive trafficked persons as illegal immigrants, rather than victims.

"There is limited awareness of trafficking among the general public and also within professional groups," Hume said. "Police officers, hospital staff, social service agents and others who are most likely to encounter trafficking victims receive minimal or no training for identifying cases. Increased public education, professional training and community outreach can reduce barriers to identifying and helping victims."

Faculty and students in the MPH Program will work with members of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (CMSHTC) and other local organizations to raise public awareness, conduct surveillance and investigation and provide resources for victims. Additionally, the MU MPH Program will be the first in Missouri to address human trafficking as a public health concern.

"Trafficking victims are susceptible to many health issues, including infectious diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries from violence, emotional trauma and general poor health due to inadequate nutrition, rest or medical care," Hume said. "There is a need to train public health professionals about these issues and provide information to the public health community."

Each year, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country each year is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry.

For more information about human trafficking and how to help, visit:


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