Combating human trafficking in southeast Missouri proves a complex issue


There’s frustration in Missouri over how human trafficking is being addressed.

Back in April of 2017, Attorney General Josh Hawley put together a task force, but the solution may not be so simple.

Poplar Bluff Police Chief Danny Whiteley answered the call when Missouri’s Attorney General asked for his help to combat human trafficking in the state.

“Which is nothing short of modern-day slavery, and the investigations need to start coming forth,” Whiteley said.

Whiteley said the task force is taking the issue seriously.

“I wouldn’t want to get into any detail about what we may or may not have going on in needless to say our geographical area, but all over the state this is being looked at. I can assure you that,” Whiteley said.

“I lost my job. It broke my heart,” said Jacquie Castañeda who was a caseworker for SEMO Rescue and Restore since 2014.

The organization was based out of East Prairie and Kennett.

They were headed by UMOS Inc, which is backed by The International Institute of St. Louis, and solely focused on combating human trafficking in Southeast Missouri.

She said they lost their funding in July.

“Down in The Bootheel there’s nothing, and it really bothers me. There’s so many people that we trained, and we tried to teach them about things, but there’s so many more that we need to reach,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda hopes Hawley’s task force is up to the task and would love to be a help.

“I want to do whatever I can to stop human trafficking. I may not be able to stop it everywhere, but I can do my part,” Castañeda said.

More than anything, she wants to be back in the field combatting the issue head-on.

“What we need is funding, Castañeda said. “I mean, there is no funding in southeast Missouri that I know about that can continue to help us continue the work to get the word out.”

Attorney General Hawley’s office said they are still deciding on the next date for the task force to meet.

A Representative with UMOS, Inc. said they are disappointed they can no longer provide outreach services to the region.

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