Nanette Ward, Co-Chair and Founding Member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, spoke to parents at Mark Twain Junior High School about a crime that she said is often thought to exist only in big cities.

The voice of a child cries out.

But it’s hard to hear her, even though she could be right in your neighborhood.

She has been taken away to a world where her emotions, mind and body are under a human trafficker’s complete control.

Nanette Ward, Co-Chair and Founding Member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, spoke to parents at Mark Twain Junior High School about a crime that she said is often thought to exist only in big cities. But human trafficking occurs everyday in communities of all sizes, including in Northeast Missouri. Ward told parents about what to look out for regarding a potential victim of human trafficking, and how to report a situation of suspected human trafficking. Through videos and examples, she shared what a victim goes through in a cycle prone to repeating — and how community members can help stop what has surpassed illegal gun sales as the second-most prevalent criminal industry in the world.

Ralls County Superintendent Dr. Tara Lewis said human trafficking information was broken down into four tiers throughout the school district: first with counselors, coaches and administrators; second, the information was shared with junior high and high school teachers. Parents and community members gathered in the Mark Twain Junior High School gymnasium Wednesday, Nov. 8 for the third tier. During the next week, junior high school and high school students will learn about warning signs of the crime and how to be more aware of their surroundings.

Ward discussed how parents can spot the warning signs of human trafficking and how they can keep their children safe from predators who are increasingly turning to the internet and social media to track down and lure children into the crime.

Ward said when she helped found the coalition in 2008, human trafficking was the third-most prevalent criminal industry across the world. It has since surpassed the illegal gun trade, ranking second to illegal drug sales worldwide.

“Right here in your community, neighboring community, every other neighboring community — all around Missouri and every state of our country — we are being affected by this,” she said.

In a video entitled “Do You Know Lacy,” parents discovered the story of a girl who went to a party that changed her life forever. She talked about how she met a man there, who kept showing up at stores and other places Lacy went in the following weeks. She thought it was fate — discovering later that the man was learning her routines and stalking her. After they went on a few dates together, he lured her and forced her into a daily cycle of sex with multiple partners. Lacy’s clothing, appearance and name were changed. She was trapped until someone broke the cycle and brought her trafficker to justice.

Ward said that human trafficking for sex is more frequent in the United States than trafficking for labor — which is more prevalent in other parts of the world. She cited a growing market of sex trafficking of children in the United States, which produces half of all the child pornography worldwide. She noted that parents should be monitoring social media and talking with their kids about the dangers of sexting — sending illicit messages or images, which is illegal for minors and can spark a human trafficking incident — and pornography, which Ward said young people can easily access inadvertently online.

Ward said community members’ knowledge of the crime is crucial, sharing that there are 1.3 to 1.7 million runaway children who are at risk of human trafficking.

Parents and community members learned about signals that someone might be a victim of human trafficking — noting that in many cases, they still attend school. The red flags included cutting, depression, PTSD, substance abuse and repeatedly running away — which Ward said pointed to increased risk for the child. She said that the average age that boys and girls are trafficked for sex is 12 to 14, and 75 percent of the victims are girls.

Ward handed out cards to everyone in attendance, so they could refer to a checklist of indicators someone might be a trafficker and check up on resources for education and a hotline to report suspected human trafficking. Meagen Mallory was among the parents in attendance.

“It was very enlightening to see the different signs and red flags you need to look for,” she said. “You always think, in a smaller community, we’re a little safer, but it kind of opens your eyes that anything can happen anywhere.”

Mallory said her children were 10 years old and 13 years old, and she said the statistics and instances were scary, but she appreciated the program and the knowledge that Ward shared with everyone, so they could be proactive and have keep their children safe.

To contact the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, text or call 866-590-5959, visit their website at www.stophumantraffickingmo.com or like them on Facebook at CMSHTC.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com