Below is an article from The Dispatch detailing the submittal of the human trafficking report to Governor Bryant. This report, headed by the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, utilized expertise from professionals and subject matter experts from across the state. The findings are as follows:
Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
July 4, 2015 11:49:28 PM
The fastest growing criminal industry does not involve illegal weapons or drugs. It involves the sale of human beings, and it's happening in Mississippi.
This according to a report the Task Force On Human Trafficking submitted to Gov. Phil Bryant's office Wednesday.
The task force was created by Bryant in December. It reviewed state laws and administrative practices pertaining to human trafficking, conducted research on modern slavery and trafficking and will make recommendations on how to reduce rates of the crime and assist victims.
The task force was divided into five subcommittees, which made more than 30 recommendations to Bryant.
Despite the fact that the global human trafficking industry could eclipse the global illegal drug trade within a decade, according to the report, it's not a widely talked about problem.
"It's a very quiet problem," said Drake Bassett, president of Palmer Home for Children in Columbus, who sat on the task force.
"We don't think of it as being right around the corner," he added.
But according to the governor's report, it is a problem in Mississippi.
Jackson-area counties see most incidents
In an assessment put together last September by Belhaven Social Work Department and private organizations, a team found 90 children who had been victims of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in Hinds, Rankin, Madison and Warren counties, an area of the state known as a "hub" for sex trafficking in the South.
The majority were exploited by family members, according to Ashlee Lucas, the human trafficking coordinator at Mississippi Office of Homeland Security. Lucas was part of the governor's task force.
Factors that lead to domestic minor sex trafficking are particularly prevalent in Mississippi, the report found. They include not only poverty and lack of education, but a high rate of police corruption, crime, runaway and homeless youth and demand for prostitution. The report also stated that domestic minor sex trafficking has become so common it's been normalized and, in some cares, glamorized by teens.
While the most common form of trafficking is familial trafficking, victims, particularly teenage girls, can also be trafficked by pimps or gangs, which coerce them into performing commercial sex acts, Lucas said. Other times victims will perform sexual favors to get food or a place to stay.
John Jones runs Advocates for Freedom, a faith-based organization in Gulfport that works to bring awareness of and end human trafficking in the state.
Jones' organization works to educate schools and law enforcement about how human trafficking looks in our state.
Human trafficking typically takes the form of a young woman or girl enticed by a man to do sexual favors, Jones said. First he pretends like he loves her and just wants her help financially, then he hooks her on drugs and threatens her, Jones said.
Human trafficking began getting recognition about three years ago, according to Jones. For that, he credits the 2012 Passion Conference, a four-day Christian conference for college students in Atlanta that brought awareness to modern slavery in the U.S.
Jones attended -- it's how he became involved in the anti-human trafficking movement.
"When you tell 45,000 college students something, it's going to spread, especially something like this," he said.
Getting into position to combat
But if the governor's task force has anything to do with it, it won't just be private organizations that spread the word about the problem.
The "Awareness" subcommittee recommended developing an entire media campaign involving both traditional and online media, including social media, just to make normal Mississippians aware of trafficking.
Additionally, the task force recommended requiring law enforcement and educators be trained in recognizing human trafficking, which often looks like prostitution or child abuse.
The task force also recommended utilizing already-existing resources -- like private organizations and national hotlines -- to solve the various problems created by human trafficking, rather than just creating all-new departments to work on the problem.
"It was important to the task force to identify resources already available," Lucas said in an email to The Dispatch.
However, the report also recommended rewriting laws and developing protocols specifically for dealing with allegations of human trafficking.
For now, they're just recommendations, Lucas said. She and others on the task force have requested the governor set up an "Operational Task Force" or regional task forces to begin implementing the recommendations.
They won't be implemented without considerable funding, however. That was part of the reason the task force stressed using existing resources. Plenty of churches, businesses and private organizations have offered to help fund the governor's efforts to combat the problem, Lucas said.
The state will also seek federal grants and appropriations from the legislature.