Oak Grove Police Department officers rescued 10 women and three children as part of a human trafficking operation in Missouri.
The police department said during the Oct. 23 operation, which was also conducted by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the 10 women were contacted and offered victim services, while the three children, all under 5 years of age, were taken into protective custody and released to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
The investigation also resulted in the arrest of five men.
The department didn’t release any further details on the operation, as the investigation is ongoing.
Investigators told KCTV News that officers from the police department had noticed odd activity at truck stops off I-70 and called the Missouri State Highway Patrol for backup.
The rescue comes after the state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, announced the Hope Initiative, a recent initiative to crack down on human trafficking.
It aims to combat instances of human trafficking by targeting illicit massage businesses across the state.
“Human trafficking is a global scourge that affects millions, including and especially here in Missouri. Using the legitimate massage business as a front, traffickers set up shop in strip malls or other commercial businesses and operate illicit massage parlors, often unbeknownst to the landlord,” Schmitt said in a statement.
“Through the Hope Initiative, which is the first of its kind, we’re working with partners across the state to identify and evict these illicit massage businesses, and in certain cases, take additional legal action. We want to send the message to anyone who is listening that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office will take action wherever possible to keep traffickers out of Missouri.”
As part of the initiative, the Attorney General’s Office sent out letters to more than 70 landlords to inform that their tenants may potentially be conducting illegal activity by running advertisements on illicit websites. The Attorney General’s Office could also bring potential lawsuits and criminal cases as part of the crackdown, the statement said.
In 2019, there were 233 human trafficking cases reported, where a majority of the cases (183) were sex trafficking cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Across the country, the organization stated it received 11,500 human trafficking reports in 2019.
About 24.9 million people around the world and in the United States, both adults and children, are trapped in some form of human trafficking, according to the White House, while about 1 in 800 people in the United States are living in “modern slavery,” according to 2018 data by the Walk Free Foundation. The phrase is a broad term used to describe victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation or servitude, and forced marriages, among numerous other abuses.
The Trump administration on Sept. 21 stated that, as part of its continued fight against human trafficking, it has awarded more than $100 million in grants to fund services and programs that combat what’s described as modern-day slavery and provide assistance to trafficking victims across the United States.
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.