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“IT’S ABOUT BRINGING AWARENESS TO YOUR CHILD THAT THERE ARE PREDATORS ONLINE...TRAFFICKERS WILL LURE THEM IN BY SAYING, COME BE A MODEL. YOU’RE A GREAT SINGER/DANCER. I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU A STAR…”

Soon, the trio launched the Exchange Initiative, an organization providing resources to end sex trafficking. Kids are being preyed upon via the Internet, with 13 being the average age of entry into the sex trade, Ritter notes. “Women and kids are being sold for sex online. There’s a site called backpage.com. You can buy a car, you can buy a refrigerator—and you can buy a child for sex—on that website. As I looked at the kids for sale for sex on that site, I realized that I could recognize the hotel rooms they were in because I have been in so many hotels through being a meeting planner,” explains Ritter, who works with hundreds of hotels around the world. Through the Exchange Initiative, Ritter and her colleagues began asking citizens to send photos of hotel rooms that could be placed in a database for law enforcement to use to narrow victims’ rescue time, maximize officers’ safety, and increase the conviction time for offenders. “It almost became overwhelming when people realized they could send us these pictures, and we were inundated with calls for years,” Ritter says. The Exchange Initiative also is teaming up with

industry experts to soon launch a smartphone app, where the hotel room photos can be uploaded for use against sex trafficking nationally and internationally. The organization also raises awareness and education about sex trafficking through a national conference called Ignite, speaking engagements at colleges, and partnerships with like-minded corporations and organizations. “We are the corporate entity that fights this. The goal is to engage other corporations to fight it, as well,” Ritter says. “It takes every stakeholder to fight this atrocity.” For its efforts, the organization has witnessed an increased awareness in St. Louis that it hopes other cities will mirror. “Truly, prevention is the key,” Ritter notes. “It’s about bringing awareness to your child that there are predators online. If

you can’t see the person you are friends with, they may not be who they seem to be. Traffickers will lure them in by saying, Come be a model. You’re a great singer/dancer. I’m going to make you a star… And so many of these girls trust and believe these traffickers because they are at tender ages.” Even victims who act like they want to be part of it are being coerced, often through violent threats or drug addiction, she adds. “And there are no socioeconomic or geographic boundaries—victims come from everywhere.” Ritter says it’s easy to turn your head and pretend sex trafficking isn’t happening. “But once you know about it, you have to do something about it.” After all, that’s what she did. “Every woman and child deserves to live a healthy life, and they are being victimized. I can’t stand for it.”

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L I G H T I N G {LadueNews.com}  June 26, 2015

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Profile for Ladue News

June 26, 2015  

St. Louis Art Museum, Mission to Accomplish, LN Family: St. Luke's Hospital, Baby Talk, Elite Advocates, Frankie Freeman, Test Drive, Golf G...

June 26, 2015  

St. Louis Art Museum, Mission to Accomplish, LN Family: St. Luke's Hospital, Baby Talk, Elite Advocates, Frankie Freeman, Test Drive, Golf G...