UNBRANDED Investigation: Sex Trafficking in Mississippi - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

UNBRANDED Investigation: Sex Trafficking in Mississippi

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Children and teens are forced into the sex trade; their pimps demanding some make a quota of $1-thousand dollars daily selling their bodies. Even more disturbing, many are scarred with tattoos of ownership. 

Our investigation found Jackson is a crossroads for sex trafficking; troubled kids, runaways lured in often by online contacts.

Young girls and boys are traded around the country, lawmen tell us; some sold by family members, then passed around to multiple men. 

Hinds County Investigator Scott Dean told us the story of a very young girl.  

He said,  "The girl was passed all around Jackson," he said. "She was promised a movie. And at the end of the day, no one ever took her to a movie, but she was taken advantage of by several men who willingly paid up."

Sandy Middleton runs the Center for Violence Prevention in Pearl.  Middleton said parents will sell their young daughters to feed their drug habit or even to pay the rent.

Things have changed in the prostitution of these victims. Solicitation is no longer a street corner desire. We met with a  Hinds County Sheriff's investigator as he uncovered blatant online ad's. 

The online ads on Craigslist and Backpage show girls in motels within 5 miles of downtown Jackson.  Many of them are forced to solicit and bring in a daily quota of several hundred dollars, according to Investigator Scott.

This modern-day slavery is occurring at an alarming level. In February of 2017, two Jacksonians were busted for sex trafficking, linked to an 11 state sex trafficking organization.

The FBI revealed several child victims were exploited by the group who advertised on websites for prostitution. 

Investigator Scott called it a lucrative trade, recalling a bust in this area.  

"That same man off of two or three girls was making a half million to a million dollars a year off these three 16-18-year-old girls," added Scott. 

Middleton, who works with abused women and sex trafficking victims,  revealed the shocking number of sex trafficking victims in the Jackson Metro area. 

"There was an assessment in Jackson in 2015 and we identified 90 child sex trafficking victims in the Metro area. Most of these victims were either familial or gang trafficked," said Middleton.

A sign of that life was tattooed into their skin. It's a daily reminder they are merely a piece of property. 

 "Whenever you first start to meet them, they are so hesitant. They have been abused, they have been broken by so many people that the last person they are going to trust is any guy including a physician," added Middleton. "That's why it makes it so hard for them to even think about the possibility of escaping because they are literally, they are branded with someone's name across their neck for the world to see."

We spoke with the Special Agent in charge of the Jackson FBI division. Christopher Freeze and his team investigate human and sex trafficking.

"It really is quite horrific in that regard," said Freeze. "You are in essence branding an individual like you might brand cattle. Who treats anyone that way? Who treats women that way?"

Dr. Adair Blackledge was approached by the Center for Violence in Pearl about this crime.  What could he do?  Remove the brand on victims with cosmetic surgery techniques. Dr. Blackledge has learned few escape the streets unbranded and without fear.

"The very first one that I ever saw was a lady who had been tattooed right across here, the front of her neck," said Dr. Blackledge. "She had been drugged."

Tired, scared and in desperate need of a way out of this sordid life of slavery, some victims risk it all to find help groups. Then they take another step to freedom; surgical removal of the graphic tattoos. Dr. Blackledge has performed this cosmetic alteration on ten women.  

"So we actually have to cut the scars out and camouflage the scars to make them nice enough so that you can't see the scars," said Dr. Blackledge at his Jackson outpatient clinic. Once that procedure is done there is a follow-up consultation and the women are never seen again.  Some remain in hiding."

The victims who had their tattoos removed by Dr. Blackledge remain anonymous, feeling somewhat liberated; unbranded.

The Center for Violence Prevention helps them toward recovery. Their cases remain under active FBI investigation. 

There is help for anyone seeking a way out of sex trafficking.  If you recognize someone who might be a victim, you can also call law enforcement authorities. The contact numbers are:  

  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-373-7888 or
  • In Mississippi 1-800-222-8000.
  • Center for Violence Prevention  at 601-932-4198.
  • Hinds county Sheriff's office Investigators Dean Scott or Helen Brown  601-974-2901

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