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Local coalition, area law enforcement aid in trafficking arrests

A recent sting operation in the Branson, Missouri, area resulted in several arrests connected to human trafficking. Local and state entities cooperated in the two-day initiative, as the Stone County Sheriff’s Office, Taney County Sheriff's Office, and Branson Police Department were supported by the Missouri Attorney General's Counter-Human Trafficking Task Force, Prosecuting Attorneys in Stone and Taney counties, the Missouri National Guard Counter-Trafficking program, Jackson County Sheriff, and the Ray County Sheriff's Counter-Human Trafficking Task Force, as well as a local survivor advocacy group, Pathways Project Coalition.

 

This team utilized a blend of victim-centered methods and proactive counter-human trafficking techniques to disrupt the commercial sex industry in the community, resulting in the following:

·       Seven predatory buyers were arrested who arrived at meet locations intending to buy sex from law enforcement officers posing as under-age victims. All were arrested and charged with sexual trafficking of a child in the second degree, and two trucks were seized for forfeiture.  

·       One buyer was arrested for meeting to pay for sex with an adult. He was booked and charged with soliciting prostitution.

·       Team members met with eight potential victims face-to-face for advocacy. No criminal charges were brought against the victims.

·       During the advocacy, two traffickers were arrested and booked for promoting prostitution. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were also seized. 


Advocates were able to meet with three of the potential victims for a second follow-up meeting for advocacy. Pathways Project Coalition collaborated with law enforcement teams to serve as a case manager. Numerous services and practical necessities were also delivered to potential victims throughout the operation.

This recent activity only begins to reveal the scope of the problem in the local area, with many at-risk youth being coerced via social media. Pathways Project Coalition, directed by Veloris Juneman, is actively working to promote awareness and education to help combat trafficking in Taney and Stone counties. Their presentations include alerting citizens to red flags to watch for and training parents, teachers and other adults in key roles to be vigilant about social media use.


Current coalition projects include ongoing conversations with area schools and other youth organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Ozarks. Watch for information tables at area back-to-school events. Volunteers are welcomed; the Coalition meets monthly, alternating between a Taney County and Stone County location. Learn more by visiting the Pathways Project Coalition Facebook page; more is accomplished when everyone works together!


Message from Branson Police Chief Schmitt (Branson Police Department Facebook page): The Branson Police Department wants the public to know that we take these crimes very seriously. While the human trafficking suspects and victims were not from the Branson area, that practice is absolutely abhorrent. The participating agencies are committed to continued operations to prevent traffickers from considering our Tri-Lakes region as a place to operate. Equally important is the message to potential customers, that our agencies will arrest and charge them for soliciting crimes. I am proud of the teamwork exhibited by all agencies in bringing these criminals to justice and working diligently to help the victims exit that life.

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