Group works to prevent child trafficking in southeast Missouri

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KBSI) – Thirty seven children are now on the path toward recovery following a nationwide sex trafficking investigation.

Five were found in St. Louis, another two were found in Kansa City.

Operation Cross Country XII consisted of nearly 400 individual operations that took place across the country over the course of two weeks.

The average age of victims was 15-and-a-half years old, while the youngest was 11 years old.

A total of 85 suspects were arrested nationwide.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, children have become more susceptible to human trafficking as predators moved online to attract their prey.

The Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO NASV) Development Director Alix Gasser says the best thing to do to prevent online abuse is to educate your children.

“One of the things we talk about a lot is with parents specifically is have those conversations early and often. The more you talk about it the more comfortable kids are going to feel disclosing the information,” said Gasser.

SEMO NASV runs the Green Bear Project which is a program that travels to southeast Missouri schools teaching child abuse prevention classes.

“There are over 500,000 predators online everyday, and they’re going to do things that they can,” Gasser said.

In 2019 there were nearly 65,000 cases of reported abuse in Missouri. In 2020 those numbers fell when the pandemic started and cases dwindled to nearly 56,000. In 2021, numbers fell to more than 54,000 cases.

“As far as cases being reported, the numbers went way down and that’s because kids weren’t in front of mandated reporters in schools. So the abuse side of things, you weren’t seeing as many reports because they weren’t in front of teachers,” Gasser said. “Whether that’s trafficking, whether that’s abuse, physical or sexual, to children, be that voice for them and report it.”

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