JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Human trafficking is real and it’s closer than you may realize.
“It is happening and Mississippi is becoming more aware," said Pearl Police Chief Dean Scott.
And that awareness is leading to changes to the state’s laws to better address the issue. Governor Bryant signed House Bill 571 last week. It was a bill pushed through by Speaker Philip Gunn.
“Any child below the age of 18 cannot be charged with prostitution," said Speaker Gunn. "That then removes one obstacle of them coming forward and talking about what’s happening to them. If they were fearful of being charged with a crime, they are less likely to come forward.”
Pearl Police Chief Dean Scott says it will be an important tool because of the brainwashing these minors often experience.
“In trafficking, they’re taught we’re the bad guys, not the ones making them do it," Scott explained. "They’re the ones that are going to take you away, lock you up.”
Investigators and non-profits all agree that’s it’s often difficult for those minors to realize they are victims.
“Unfortunately these are children that have lived adult lives but they should not be found guilty of a crime they were forced into,” added Scott.
Training is another piece of the House bill. The goal is simple, better educating those who may find themselves on the front lines of the issue with how to spot the red flags.
“If you don’t do anything but pick up the phone and call, you’re making an effort to help,” said Chief Scott.
A Senate bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature that outlines the legal consequences for those charges with human trafficking crimes. Non-profit Advocates for Freedom says it’s another significant step because it addresses the “buyer” and when there’s no buyer, there’s no business. A business’ commodities, people, often children.