Michael Bushnell

January 11th was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and to mark the observance of the day, Missouri Deputy Attorney General Clifton Davis visited the Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood to spotlight a host of local organizations who regularly collaborate with  Relentless Pursuit Outreach and Recovery (RPOR) on Independence Avenue in working together to stop human trafficking.

Kansas City, given its unique geographical location near the center of the continental United States and at the crossroads of two major Interstate highways, is often a hub for human and sex trafficking. “We want to draw attention to this important day and highlight the many voices and organizations that are working in unison across Missouri to end trafficking once and for all,” said Stephanie Wiley, Executive Director of RPOR. “None of us can fight human trafficking alone,” Wiley noted.

National Human Trafficking Day is observed each January 11th through the Wear Blue Day campaign. To raise awareness, people are asked to wear blue and share photos of themselves, family, friends and colleagues wearing blue and share them on their various social media channels.

RPOR’s Executive Director Stephanie Wiley | Photo by Michael Bushnell

RPOR is a Historic Northeast Kansas City-based, nonprofit organization that operates a drop-in center at 5108 Independence Avenue.  Originally opened as Christine’s Place in December of 2020, it was named for Christine McDonald, a former Independence Avenue prostitute who worked the Avenue for over 17 years. McDonald now works to rescue other women who have fallen prey to the circle of addiction and prostitution as well as human trafficking.

The center was rebranded as the RPOR Drop In Center in November 2022 and operates as a safe, non-judgmental place for prostituted people from all backgrounds and races. According to Stephanie Wiley, RPOR’s Operations Manager, the walk-in center served about 300 women over the course of a 12-month period.  “Those 300 women came into the center about 5500 times,” Wiley said. “Since opening, which was in December of 2020, we have served over 615 unique women and they have visited the drop in center over 15,000 times,” Wiley added.

RPOR’s Executive Director Stephanie Wiley | Photo by Michael Bushnell

The center also locates birth certificates, driver’s licenses and social security cards, all of which are items taken from women when they’re going to be trafficked. Wiley said women can use the Independence Avenue address so their new documents come straight to the center so that when the women are ready to escape the trafficking, all of their documents are ready to go.

The biggest stumbling block for the organization according to Wiley is housing, adding that many times clients, after securing a lease, walk into a completely empty apartment with no furniture,  furnishings or food. RPOR works directly with Flourish Furniture Bank, a non-profit agency in Grandview that works with assistance agencies such as RPOR in providing essential home furnishings and housewares to clients who are seeking housing stability.

During Deputy Attorney General Clifton Davis’s remarks, he acknowledged how well the RPOR drop in center model worked in Kansas City and indicated it could be used as a model statewide.  “I’ve looked at some of the organizations across the state and the question is how do we, as an Attorney General’s office, help facilitate and collaborate the good work that is happening here throughout the state,” Davis said. “I absolutely feel like this organization has a model that I hope to help collaborate to facilitate replication throughout the state.”

John Fierro, CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center, is a long time partner of RPOR and is looking forward to continuing their partnership. “For us, we definitely want to support our partner, we want to stay involved and help to reduce the number of individuals who are victims of human trafficking each year,” Fierro said. “Many of our clients are immigrants and refugees and it’s important we continue to advocate for our marginalized communities here in the Historic Northeast.”

RPOR continues to renovate the Independence Avenue space with a target completion date of Summer, 2025. Later this year, the Mattie Rhodes Center will be moving some of their services to the 5110 space, next to the drop in center on Independence Avenue. For more information on RPOR, visit https://www.rpor.org/