(CNN)More than 150 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slavery is illegal almost everywhere. But it is still not abolished — not even here, in the land of the free. On the contrary, there is a cancer of violence, a modern-day slavery growing in America by the day, in the very places where we live and work. It’s called human trafficking. The time has come for a new abolitionist movement to confront this oppression and turn it back.
Each year, thousands of people, usually women and girls, are deceived, threatened or simply forced into commercial sexual exploitation. That is, they are forced to provide sex for money. Don’t be misled, this isn’t a crime confined to exotic locales. It happens all the time, even in a neighborhood near you. Sex trafficking occurs when a young woman is forced into prostitution at a truck stop; when a sexual predator lures a teen on the internet; when a family member makes a child sell sex for cash.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 4.5 million people are trapped in commercial sex exploitation worldwide, 98% of them female. Since 2007, the National Trafficking Hotline in the United States has received more than 31,000 reports of trafficking happening in this country. Nearly 2,000 calls to the NTH have come from my home state of Missouri.
Sex trafficking amounts to a form of slavery: It is forced, unchosen labor. Left unchecked, it threatens to disfigure our society. That’s a danger I take personally. As attorney general of Missouri, I am my state’s chief law enforcement officer. I swore an oath to uphold the rule of law, and that means fighting violence and oppression wherever it exists, especially violence against the poor and vulnerable. The swelling epidemic of human trafficking makes a mockery of the law and its protections. Confronting this evil demands new thinking and decisive new action. And this is my pledge: In Missouri we will act, and we will act now.
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