COLUMBIA —Drivers traveling west on Interstate 70 between Columbia and Kansas City will soon see a billboard with the words, "People are being sold. Report it."
The billboard will be installed late this month and is sponsored by the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition.
“This exploitation of people has been around for a long time — it’s not something new,” said Nanette Ward, co-chair of the coalition. “What is new is that people are becoming more aware and educated about this issue of human trafficking."
Ward said that human trafficking takes on many forms, like sex trafficking and labor trafficking, specifically of immigrants. Broadly, human trafficking is defined as “a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others,” according to the Polaris Project, a national nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working exclusively on the issue of human trafficking.
Ward said she could not provide precise numbers of human trafficking cases in central Missouri because of the nature of the crime. However, since 2008 when the coalition was formed, 18 cases were reported in central Missouri, and 12 of those resulted in investigations, according to a story in Vox magazine in 2010.
The local coalition collaborates with the Polaris Project to connect victims of trafficking with resources and aid agencies via a 24-hour hotline. The hotline also helps educate the public about the issue and to report possible trafficking. The phone number will be included on the billboard.
Lamar Advertising Company, which sold the billboard space to the coalition, decided to waive the estimated $500 monthly fee for advertising.
“We do it for lots of different groups and not-for-profit organizations if we do have space available,” said Kirk Page, sales manager of Lamar Advertising of Missouri. “Anything that a community needs to know about, if we can get it on a billboard, we can be a good neighbor.”
After Lamar waived the monthly fee, the total cost of the board was reduced to a one-time charge of $1,500 for production and installation, which hopefully will be paid in full by donations from community members, Ward said.
“We’re intentionally not seeking corporate donors because we want anyone and everyone to be a part of contributing to getting this billboard up,” Ward said. “Whether people are able to donate some change or a few dollars, that will be an important part of contributing in a very real way.”
So far, the coalition has raised $287.73,, Ward said. Donations can be made via Paypal on the coalition’s website, stophumantraffickingmo.com or by mail to the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, 601 Business Loop 70 W., Suite 134-F, Columbia, MO 65203. Donors can also send an email to the coalition, asking that their donation be specifically allocated to the Bills for Billboard campaign, Ward said.
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