Social media posts fuel fear of human trafficking in the Ozarks

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Human trafficking in the Ozarks is an on-going problem local advocates and law enforcement continue to battle.

Recently, a wave of social media posts have flared up new fears that it's on the rise here, locally.

We contacted several police departments in our area. No reports on these types of incidents have been filed.

We also checked with local coalitions against trafficking and learned that they too have been contacted about these posts.

"I didn't see anything at all that would definitely indicate a human trafficking situation," Dr. Rachael Herrington, with the Stand Against Trafficking Coalition.

She works with law enforcement to identify and combat the human trafficking issue in the Ozarks.

There are a few different social media posts circulating that indicate women are being targeted.

"There's another one that was shared recently that a woman was driving down a highway and stopped at a convenience store and noticed she was being followed. They tried to run her off the road. She was becoming very scared. That sounds like a horribly scary situation and absolutely call law enforcement and so forth. But even that post there was absolutely zero reason for us to speculate that that's a human trafficking situation," explained Herrington.

That's not to say it can't happen.

"It is possible that people could be abducted and sold but that is absolutely not the norm," she said.

Herrington explained that traffickers work in other ways, often targeting younger people.

"Traffickers will often build a relationship with people and then exploit their vulnerabilities. It's similar to childhood sexual abuse where you're going to see a grooming process. People are often trafficked by people they've been in contact, for some time with," she explained.

Herrington said it's the online predators or people you just meet that you need to be wary of.

"At Standing Against Trafficking we work really hard to try to present data, as accurately as possible and not to sensationalize an issue that's already very horrible," she said.

Harrington says awareness of personal safety in every way is your best line of defense.

"It's kind of a hot button issue right now. People are looking for it everywhere and finding it where it doesn't exist. The reality is that is does exist," she said.

Stand Against Trafficking Coalition is hosting an education forum in Republic at the community center on Monday, August 27 at 6:00 PM.