A new state law could lead to more prosecutions in Missouri of human traffickers.
Governor Mike Parson (R) recently signed into law House Bill 1472 to change in state law definitions related to currency and money laundering. That might not sound like trafficking legislation, but advocates say it is.
“Remember, for traffickers human trafficking is about making the highest profit possible with the lowest risk to get caught by law enforcement. This is the key. For that reason traffickers need to find ways to eliminate anything, any ways that could lead law enforcement and authorities to them … or be used as evidence,” said Doctor Shima Rostami, Executive Director of Gateway Human Trafficking based in Chesterfield. “For that reason virtual currency and engaging peer-to-peer mobile payments has been playing a great role for payments concerning trafficking operations lately, and because the laws haven’t been updated … to help prosecutors and law enforcement use the evidence they can gather from these forms of transactions, it’s been very difficult for prosecutors and law enforcement to follow the footprints of traffickers in trafficking operations.”
Dr. Rostami says prosecutors are often left with no evidence aside from the testimony of victims, and victims often refuse to testify. This can be for many reasons stemming from their experience, including traumas they suffered or because trafficking organizations may still have leverage over them such as threats against their families or even holding family members hostage.
She offered examples, including that of a victim who was kidnapped as a child and is now an adult. Over the course of her experience she was raped more than 24,000 times.
“It is going to be impossible for that human being to be in the same courtroom to testify against the trafficker in front of the trafficker. All of the trauma, what they went through; the pain comes through them and keeps them back from actually functioning.”
Dr. Rostami said these situations made it more important that Missouri’s law be updated so that evidence of virtual money laundering can be used at trial.
“It’s golden if we could use that other evidence, like money laundering evidence, to prove the trafficking operation … however if you won’t be able to prosecute trafficking charges, at least other physical evidence can help prosecutors charge traffickers with other criminal charges rather than just letting them go because we don’t have enough evidence to use against them.”
HB 1472 adds to state law definitions for “cryptocurrency,” “financial transaction,” and “transaction;” and replaces the definition for “currency” with one for “monetary instruments.” It was sponsored by Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian), who has worked on several trafficking issues during her 8 years in the House. She said those continue to be important in Missouri because its location makes it important for trafficking.
“We are a crossroads in the United States. There’s a highway and transportation hub of the United States going through Missouri.”
“I’m looking forward to following this legislation as it’s incorporated into the legal system and seeing what kind of difference it makes in the years to come,” said Pike.
The House voted 141-2 to send that bill to Governor Parson.