Facing the Facts in the Gateway City

You can sell a gram of cocaine once in a night.  Then you have to buy more product and find a way to transport it...


You can sell a 14 year old girl multiple times in one night...

This is the reality of half of the modern-day slave trade.

And this is exactly what a friend of mine said to me when she had her first job in her educational career in south Florida.  Her biggest surprise about her job was the combating of human trafficking.  But that’s south Florida, right?  True.  And human trafficking is especially high in coastal cities, right?  True.  Trafficking is always higher on the oceans than in land-locked cities in the middle of the country, right?


The St. Louis area is ranked in the top 20 for the FBI’s worst cities for human trafficking (Ohio is also pretty bad - so much for the innocent, down-home Midwest).  Product has to be moved, and while we stand tall by our heritage of being “The Gateway to the West,” a gate can let through both the good and the ugly, and through our Gateway run two major interstates in one of the few places people can cross the mighty Mississippi that divides the country.

To get girls from one side of the country to another, traffickers are almost required to come through St. Louis.

I went to get blood work done at the Quest lab off Mexico Road, just down the street from our St. Peter’s CrossFit, a mere two miles from highway 70.  As I drove up, two girls (women?) scantily dressed, heavily made-up, leaning on each other came stumbling out of the clinic.  A man in a beat up old pick-up swung around blazing from the back of the parking lot.  They jumped into the truck, and off they sped.  To my own shame, I was so shocked at what I just witnessed.  It didn’t occur to me to get the license plate number and/or call the cops.  I only hope someone inside the lab was observant enough to do so.  But this scene drove home to me that trafficking is not just happening in South Florida; it’s happening everywhere, even down the street from our box, if you know how to look.  Craig’s List is loaded with pages for selling girls of all ages in our area.  There are huge human trafficking rings running through St. Louis, and there are small-scale, domestic-abuse operations as well.  

I went to a baby shower for a girl whose boyfriend had sold her off to his friends and had her convinced it was okay because it was supporting them financially.  I’ve been to safe houses that can house up to 36 girls from full ring busts.  All right here in our home town.

It used to be that law enforcement would take girls selling themselves and book them for prostitution, until recently.  The FBI realized that the majority of prostitutes they picked up were forced into prostitution by a third party using whatever method worked.   All the while, proving what traffickers already knew: human trafficking in young girls is the perfect crime: the product can be repeatedly sold and relocated, and if the product is caught, they go down for “prostitution” and the seller remains entirely untouched.  Getting caught with the product is also safer with humans than with narcotics.  If a drug trafficker is caught with a load of heroin, they’re caught.  They get busted and got to jail.   If a human trafficker is caught on highway 44 with two teenage girls, the terrorized girls can just be trained to say, “this is my dad” and the trafficker and the girls are allowed to continue on their journey.

No cute stories like “Pretty Woman” here.

In fact, some charitable organizations claim that evidence suggests that worldwide, fewer than 20% of prostitutes are engaged in the trade by choice.  When girls are too old to make pimps much money, they are discarded.  Often, they continue in the work not out of desire but out of lack of education or other viable options to feed themselves.  

Law enforcement realized they needed to have a new way to deal with girls they picked up.  They are usually abused, addicted to something, and displaced from family and friends by hundreds or thousands of miles.  All of this is done on purpose to keep girls compliant.

St. Peter’s CrossFit has decided to take a stand and support victims of human trafficking in St. Louis.  St. Louis might have one of the highest trafficking rates in the nation, but it also boasts at least two refuge homes for girls rescued from this terrible life.  Over the next couple months, we’ll share with you the statistics, but also a basic understanding of the slave trade in St. Louis: how girls get caught in it, how and where they are sold, what law enforcement has discovered about the trade here in St. Louis, and what two organizations are doing about it right here.

As a box full of athletes with big muscles, we realize the heart is also a muscle (my husband told me this was too cheesy, and I kind of agree, but had to keep it anyway, ha ha.  Cheesy isn’t bad when you just wrote something entirely depressing!), and we have used ours repeatedly over the years for troubled teens, veterans, health needs, and many more things.  We are getting ready to exercise that muscle all together for a massive St. Louis overhaul, something we can say is a global problem knocking on our own front doors.


-Chelci Richardson-