COLUMBIA— The MU Master of Public Health Program has received $100,000 to help combat human trafficking, a criminal industry that primarily includes victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation.
The money will help fund training sessions with law enforcement, health care providers and social services, said Deb Hume, an instructor in the department and co-chairwoman of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition.
As director of the grant program, Hume hopes to educate professionals on what human trafficking looks like, how to identify victims, what the proper processes are with victims and who to contact with information.
“We want to build a network of professionals who would be able to identify a victim of human trafficking,” Hume said.
The funds are part of a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help the area identify and serve victims.
Sixty percent of the money will be shared among other organizations in Columbia and across 13 counties in Central Missouri. These organizations include the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, the Columbia Police Department, the Centro Latino and The Shelter.
The MU Master of Public Health Program is the first in Missouri to identify human trafficking as a public health concern. According to Hume, there are a number of health concerns associated with human trafficking, including bad nutrition, irregular medical care, sexually transmitted infections and other diseases, as well as physical and psychological trauma.
“All of those are part of what public health looks at on a community level,” Hume said.
As part of the coalition, MU student organization Stop Traffic Now will receive part of the grant. Community members formed the coalition after the human trafficking conference held by Stop Traffic Now in March 2008, Hume said.
“If anybody should receive credit, it would be their founding members,” Hume said. “If they had not built that foundation and made the community aware of it, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”