MU Public Health Program Receives Grant to Combat Human Trafficking

MU Public Health Program Receives
Grant to Combat Human Trafficking

Grant will fund efforts to raise
awareness and identify victims in mid-Missouri

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: http://www.usdoj.gov/whatwedo/whatwedo_ctip.html

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