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Legislative discrepancies: an analysis of Missouri’s current human trafficking laws and the need to improve its legal protection of victims

Rachel Kappler (Garfield County Public Health, University of New England (MPH) and University of Missouri-St. Louis (BSN), Rifle, Colorado, USA)
Arduizur Carli Richie-Zavaleta (Department of Graduate and Professional Studies in Public Health, University of New England, Portland, Maine, USA)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 30 March 2020

Issue publication date: 30 April 2020




Human trafficking (HT) is a local, national and international problem with a range of human rights, public health and policy implications. Victims of HT face atrocious abuses that negatively impact their health outcomes. When a state lacks protective laws, such as Safe Harbor laws, victims of HT tend to be seen as criminals. This paper aims to highlight the legal present gaps within Missouri’s anti-trafficking legislation and delineates recommendations for the legal protection of victims of HT and betterment of services needed for their reintegration and healing.


This case-study is based on a policy analysis of current Missouri’s HT laws. This analysis was conducted through examining current rankings systems created by nationally and internationally recognized non-governmental organizations as well as governmental reports. Additionally, other state’s best practice and law passage of Safe Harbor legislations were examined. The recommendations were based on human rights and public health frameworks.


Missouri is a state that has yet to upgrade its laws lately to reflect Safe Harbor laws. Constant upgrades and evaluations of current efforts are necessary to protect and address HT at the state and local levels. Public health and human rights principles can assist in the upgrading of current laws as well as other states’ best-practice and integration of protective legislation and diversion programs to both youth and adult victims of HT.

Research limitations/implications

Laws are continually being updated at the state level; therefore, there might be some upgrades that have taken place after the analysis of this case study was conducted. Also, the findings and recommendations of this case study are limited to countries that are similar to the USA in terms of the state-level autonomy to pass laws independently from federal law.

Practical implications

If Safe Harbor laws are well designed, they have greater potential to protect, support and assist victims of HT in their process from victimization into survivorship as well as to paving the way for societal reintegration. The creation and enforcement of Safe Harbor laws is a way to ensure the decriminalization process. Additionally, this legal protection also ensures that the universal human rights of victims are protected. Consequently, these legal processes and updates could assist in creating healthier communities in the long run in the USA and around the world.

Social implications

From a public health and human rights perspectives, communities in the USA and around the world cannot provide complete protection to victims of HT until their anti-trafficking laws reflect Safe Harbor laws.


This case study, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, is a unique analysis that dismantles the discrepancies of Missouri’s current HT laws. This work is valuable to those who create policies at the state level and advocate for the protection of victims and anti-trafficking efforts.



Kappler, R. and Richie-Zavaleta, A.C. (2018), "Legislative discrepancies: an analysis of Missouri’s current human trafficking laws and the need to improve its legal protection of victims", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 143-158.



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