Efforts underway to curb human trafficking

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Multiple agencies across Mississippi, including the Mississippi Department of Transportation, are joining forces in January to recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month in an effort to put an end to the rising worldwide problem.

Michael Flood, MDOT’s public information officer, said human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. and is often referred to as a “modern-day slavery” in which traffickers receive a profit for the exploitation of other people.

“A lot of victims aren’t around long enough in areas to form any social connections and are sent around the country in vehicles and that’s where law enforcement come into play. They’re regulating these motor vehicles, whether it’s at weigh stations when trucks come through or on highways,” Flood said. “That’s the main thing we’re doing to help combat this issue and it’s going to take a lot of people to look out for this type of thing.”

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According to a press release from MDOT, human trafficking is defined as causing a child or adult to participate in “prostitution or forced labor or services by enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, transporting or otherwise obtaining another person by deception, coercion or force,” according to a press release from Gov. Phil Bryant’s office in 2014.

In 2015, there were more than 30 reported human trafficking cases in Mississippi and nearly 150 cases have been identified since 2007, Flood said.

In 2014, several agencies in Mississippi were trained to assess and respond to human trafficking situations in coordination with the Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Human Trafficking Task Force. Those agencies include MDOT, the Mississippi Center for Violence Prevention, Mississippi Department of Homeland Security and Truckers against Trafficking. The training was led by Brad Dennis of the Klaaskids Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to families of missing children and conducts rescue missions for trafficked minors, according to the MDOT release.

MDOT law enforcement officers were trained to identify victims of human trafficking based on the following signs— people living with their employer, people crammed in trailers, an employer not releasing identity documents relating to an employee and signs of abuse, Flood said.

“Most of the human trafficking victims are underage,” he said.

“Human trafficking and the people that fall victim to it are often hard to identify. It’s a serious crime that often is forgotten, even though we know it is happening,” Gov. Bryant said in a press release in 2014. “By bringing together the relevant individuals from around the state to take a hard look at best practices and put forth recommendations, we will draw closer to putting a stop to this terrible crime in our state.”

People can help spread awareness about human trafficking in January by using the social media hashtag, #endtrafficking, or by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 if they notice any suspicious activity believed to be human trafficking, Flood said.