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Human trafficking permeates the U.S. landscape.

Missouri is no exception.

It is a big enough issue in Missouri that the state Attorney General’s Office maintains a Human Trafficking Task Force.

And the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) announced a collaboration Wednesday with the state, intending to help hospital staff or other health care providers to understand and identify victims of human trafficking, MHA spokesman Dave Dillon said.

MHA developed and released new resources in collaboration with state officials.

Law enforcement and data indicate about 88 percent of people caught in human sex trafficking have cause to visit medical providers. And, more than 63 percent of those interactions with health care providers occur in hospitals.

The AG’s Office worked with the MHA to find ways to ensure those health care providers (including hospitals) are equipped with tools they need to identify potential victims of human trafficking, said Chris Nuelle, the press secretary for the Attorney General’s Office.

“Hospitals and health care workers are coming into contact with those human trafficking victims,” Nuelle said. “We want them to know exactly what to look for in order to speak with those victims. There are tips on how best to talk to victims when they are under the control of a trafficker or somebody similar.”

The collaboration with hospitals fits well with work the task force is doing, he said.

The task force is designed and structured with an emphasis on law enforcement, so it can create an environment in which law enforcement personnel can identify, respond to and investigate cases efficiently, according to the task force’s webpage.

The task force is set up to ensure it efficiently serves the entire state, including urban and rural areas; provides a holistic, comprehensive response to cases through coordination of services, trainings and intelligence-sharing; engages multiple agencies in a multi-disciplinary, coordinated strategy (eliminating silos); and maximizes resources.

“Our Human Trafficking Task Force works with a lot of different stakeholders across the state. We’re always seeking to add new tools in the fight against human trafficking,” Nuelle said. “Adding more people and getting as many people as we can is crucial to rooting out and investigating human trafficking.”

It has identified 83 illicit massage businesses and closed 39 of them. It is trying to prevent about 100 people from returning to receive licenses after they have been shut down.

It has administered trainings to thousands of people in law enforcement, prosecution and victim advocacy.

And alongside the Missouri Highway Patrol, it has conducted two human trafficking operations, in St. Louis and in Columbia.

The resources MHA released on Wednesday included a comprehensive toolkit to guide hospitals’ overall efforts, along with web-based video training modules to support hospital workforce education.

Health care providers, nurses and other leaders can take information they gather back to share with their colleagues, Dillon said.

The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines human trafficking in two ways — sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

While it is accepted that a large percentage of people involved in sex trafficking end up in health care facilities, less is known about those being trafficked for labor, according to the MHA news release.

Labor trafficking can include people being forced into a wide variety of tasks, from farm, construction and factory work to retail and restaurant work.

As with those involved in sex trafficking, there is no specific profile for victims.

“Individuals caught in the trafficking cycle don’t fit a simple stereotype,” MHA President Herb Kuhn said. “They are not defined by age, race or gender and can come from rural and urban backgrounds. The toolkit, and associated training modules, are designed to break down misconceptions. They rely on best practices to identify the signs of trafficking and provide a foundation for stronger policies and practices to guide hospitals’ efforts.”

There are a few different ways the state tries to combat human trafficking, Nuelle said.

“There is the law enforcement side, but there is also the education side,” he said, “Including hospital workers and emergency personnel. You get those multiple, different layers of education and you reach as many people as you can.”

Adoption of strong hospital policies, backed by best practices in trafficking identification at the front lines of care, has proven to open a gateway for reducing the harm of human trafficking, the MHA news release says.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is occurring or notices something that doesn’t seem right is asked to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888, texting 233733 or going to the hotline website.

For help on recognizing human trafficking, Polaris Project (a website dedicated to helping people identify victims of human trafficking) offers tips and information on the signs of labor, sex and other types of trafficking.

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