Human trafficking is a real and persistent problem in Kansas, but statewide, regional and local organizations are working together to find new way to serve survivors.

Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. People can be trafficked for many reasons, most frequently labor or sexual exploitation. Trapped by force, fear, economics or geography, victims of trafficking find themselves in desperate and complex situations from which there is no simple escape. Many victims are children. One in every three sex trafficking victims forced into prostitution is under the age of 18, according to the Kansas Attorney General’s office.

The Kansas Human Trafficking Advisory Board, administered by the Office of the Kansas Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, is a group of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim’s advocates and other professionals. The group gathers information and advises the attorney general on steps to prevent and reduce human trafficking in the state.

Kansas is about to complete the first year of an innovative program originally advocated by the Kansas Human Trafficking Advisory Board to require human trafficking training for all commercial drivers license holders. The free training is conducted by Truckers Against Trafficking and covers warning signs of trafficking and what to do if a driver spots a suspicious situation.

Nonprofit organizations across the state, including domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and homeless shelters have also stepped up to serve victims of trafficking, finding ways to offer safety for this vulnerable population.

In northeast Kansas, the YWCA has officially served trafficking victims with counseling and shelter services since 2014. The organization announced last week that they will expand services to include Topeka’s first daytime drop-in center for victims of trafficking, offering many of the services trafficking survivors have identified as critical needs.

Trafficking victims need some of the same services other victims of abuse need, like shelter, counseling and relocation assistance, provided by victim’s advocates. The drop-in center will also offer a place to take a nap, shower, do laundry, mail a letter, have a meal or store important documents.

The organization has found survivors of trafficking need basic needs met before they can develop relationships with advocates that may help them escape their traffickers. The program is consulting with organizations offering similar drop-in services in Texas and Kentucky, hoping to bring the best ideas from across the nation to Kansas. The drop-in center was funded by a grant from the Topeka Rotary Foundation and will open in October.

A problem as complex as human trafficking requires our best ideas. Programs to help people recognize and respond to trafficking are vitally important to help victims escape trafficking and hold traffickers accountable.