'I just did what any person should do' — Columbia truck driver's savvy gets woman out of sex trafficking

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune

Date: 5/30/2021

When a Columbia truck driver was approached at the Midway Truck Stop on May 19 by another man offering a good time, the driver knew something wasn't right about the situation. 

This man had pointed out a young woman with matted hair, who had a scared look on her face. 

"I was not interested in any means," the driver, who asked to remain anonymous, said. 

He did, however, ask to talk to the young woman after he saw her. He gave the woman his business card with his phone number and told her to call him if she wanted to get away from what was happening to her. 

"She looked like she was not wanting to do what he wanted her to do," the driver said. "I could tell she didn't want to be where she was at."

Two days later, he received the call. 

The driver wished to remain anonymous to protect the woman, her temporary living situation and himself and his family. The driver — when he is not out on the road — and the woman are working with the Stop Human Trafficking Coalition of Central Missouri to find other housing and help for the woman. 

"I don't want any medals, publicity, none of that. I just did what any person should do," he said. 

After the driver picked up the woman, he started making phone calls but was having difficulties finding a place that could help her. A staff member at Burrell Behavioral Health was able to connect the driver with the coalition and co-chair Nanette Ward after an internet search. 

"I didn't really know about (the coalition) or I would have called it first," the driver said. "Nanette came over like a champ, took over." 

The driver recognizes that the situation he encountered is an everyday occurrence. 

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on," he said.

More: Rescue of 11 human trafficking victims in Columbia was part of monthslong investigation. It isn't over

How does the coalition help?

When the coalition first connects with a human trafficking survivor, it works to build trust with that individual, Ward said. 

"We always make sure they know we are here for them," she said. "There is a sense of trust (by) just being with an organization that exists specifically for victims and survivors of human trafficking."

The woman appears to be happier now that she no longer is being trafficked, the driver said. 

"She is starting to eat. She really is all smiles. She is very grateful that she got away. She has a big heart." he said.

The first connections are not about vetting a person's story, Ward said. Help has to be given first before details are gathered. In this particular woman's case, she is a candidate for a long-term recovery residential home for survivors of sex trafficking. 

"They exist all around the country, and there are actually some of those programs right here in Missouri," Ward said, adding the woman doesn't have direct ties to the central Missouri area. "She has nothing to lose and everything to gain from going to one of these programs."

There are at least two long-term residential programs in Missouri — one in Kansas City and St. Louis. Restoration House of Greater Kansas City has a faith-based program that takes in adult women and minor girl survivors. The Covering House in St. Louis focuses on minor girl survivors of sex trafficking.

Ward did not specify to which long-term program she helped the woman apply, noting that there are many. 

The residential programs last anywhere from one to two years. While that is a big decision, the survivor appeared willing to participate, Ward said.

"She right away was very interested and very willing to consider. We actually already did an application for one of them and are waiting to hear," she said. 

Recognizing the signs

How can a person look out for the signs of human trafficking? In most cases, if you have a gut feeling about something, trust it, Ward said. 

"If it doesn't look right, if it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't," she said. 

Ward recommends taking in as much detail of a situation as possible to be able to report it to authorities. If a person can safely talk with someone they think might be a victim, such as when in a restroom, they should do it, she said.

"We can always keep learning and keep telling ourselves what are we willing to do — to make a report, to call someone or pay more attention and take notes," Ward said. "You also hope the law enforcement person has had the training. We have to all be cooperating around this issue." 

What resources are out there?

The coalition serves the central Missouri region. Its office is at 503 E. Nifong Blvd., Suite H, Unit 206, which is in the vicinity of the Nifong Hy-Vee. It can be reached by phone through the local helpline at 866-590-5959.

Stop Human Trafficking Coalition of Central Missouri co-chairs Nanette Ward and Karen Mickey participate in the organization's 13th anniversary celebration in April. The coalition recently was contacted by a Columbia truck driver who was able to help a victim get away from her trafficker.

There is a national hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Victims and survivors also can reach out by texting 233733. The hotline has a referral directory of anti-trafficking organizations, as well.  

The Missouri Attorney General's office has a task force on human trafficking, of which Ward is a member. It has resources victims and survivors can use to connect with services. 

Victims and survivors also can connect with the Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation. It has a Missouri resources page, which breaks down resource listings by county. The Boone County Guide, for example, has details on more than just human trafficking resources. It also has information on homeless and youth shelters, mental health and substance abuse services and more. 

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