Dear Mayor Krewson,
My name is Lauren Masten, and I am the Membership Coordinator for the Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation, a statewide multi-disciplinary coalition that works to prevent and respond to trafficking and exploitation. Our coalition started in St. Louis City, and our group includes many service providers in the city who work with survivors of human trafficking. I am writing at the request of our Coalition Members in response to the disbandment of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s (SLMPD) Human Trafficking Investigative Unit.
As service providers, we work with city residents who have been the victims of the horrible crime of human trafficking, and we appreciate the vital importance of collaboration between providers and law enforcement to bring justice. Human trafficking is a unique and complicated crime that often involves multiple victims, suspects, and crime scenes across jurisdictions and state lines. It takes experienced and dedicated professionals at all levels, including the vital Law Enforcement personnel who respond to the scene and investigate these cases. Individuals experience complex trauma, PTSD, and other mental health concerns, genuine safety concerns, and often have a long history of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Because of this reality, it can be hard for them to trust providers or Law Enforcement. Providers work hard to build trust and having allies that the service providers trust can be the difference it takes to help a victim feel safe, report, and seek justice.
The Human Trafficking Unit disbanded a few years ago, and it was to the great detriment of the clients we serve. Without the Unit, cases fell apart, and perpetrators were released or never arrested. Service providers lost trust in law enforcement to address the complex cases we saw. Survivors were re-victimized by the lack of system support. Survivors did not trust the police, and we were not able to reassure them otherwise. Thankfully the Police Department reinstated the individuals who oversaw the Unit. Yet, in 2020 the Unit was disbanded again, and cases transferred to the Sex Crimes Unit. We fear the same consequences.
The Unit brings a victim-centered approach with specific knowledge and experience to see the cases through, make necessary services referrals, and unit with service providers and the community against trafficking. We are aware that this is a vulnerable and challenging time for the city and the police department as you plan how to move forward in response to the civil unrest across the nation as well as to a global pandemic. However, we believe that this is deeply related. When thinking about how to care for the police department as well as ensure city residents are protected and have a path to justice, do not forget the survivors of human trafficking.
We urge you to reinstate the Human Trafficking Unit in the SLMPD. It is essential to the well-being of victims, who already face many obstacles in their path to healing. It is vital to support the path to justice for survivors.
Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation Members
Healing Action Network, Inc.
The Covering House