A freshman state representative has filed another effort to make Missouri less attractive to sex traffickers.
Manchester Republican Jean Evans’ prefiled legislation would increase from 15 to 17 the minimum age at which a person can receive a marriage license. Missouri law allows teens as young as 15 to get a license when extenuating circumstances exist, as long as one of the teen’s parents gives consent.
Evans said traffickers have been taking advantage of Missouri’s law, bringing trafficking victims to the state to marry their abusers. That makes prosecuting the abuser difficult or impossible.
Evans said such marriages are able to take place because parents are sometimes involved in trafficking their own children. She said she learned about the issue from a report by KMOV reporter Lauren Trager.
“One of the things they discovered in the [House Task Force on Sex Trafficking] is that it was more prevalent than I think people may have realized. I recall one case where there was a woman who reported she had been trafficked starting at the age of 3, by her parents,” said Evans. “As disturbing and disgusting as that is, that is a reality that we’re dealing with, and to the extent that we can intervene we want to do so.”
Evans said practically, there is little done to investigate extenuating circumstances when a marriage license is sought for someone as young as 15.
“We’ve sort of left it to the recorder of deeds or whoever is issuing a marriage license in each particular county to determine that. I believe that that’s not their responsibility. They’re not social workers or FBI agents. They’re just issuing the marriage license as long as they have one parent’s consent,” said Evans. “I think it places an undue burden on them to investigate whether the circumstances are extreme, as outlined in the statute.”
Evans’ bill is not based on a recommendation from the Task Force on Sex Trafficking, but she has discussed the issue with its chairman, Springfield Representative Elijah Haahr (R). She sees her bill as part of a broader effort to fight trafficking – an effort based largely on the work of that Task Force.
House members will be asked to consider other legislation related to trafficking – much of it based on the work of the Task Force. HB 261 would require employers to display posters with the national trafficking hotline and related information. Other recommendations by the Task Force deal with creating a position in state government to oversee anti-trafficking efforts, and supporting groups that offer victims treatment and assistance to transition out of trafficking.
Evans’ legislation is HB 270.