JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - “When you arrest a prostitute, you have to determine is she doing this willfully, is she doing this for her. Nine times out of 10, she’s not.”
Those are the words of Clinton Police Department Sgt. Nick Sprowles during CPD’s first-ever human trafficking operation. From Tuesday through Saturday, with the assistance of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department, a group of detectives made 23 arrests -- in many cases the arrests were pimps and johns. A few were prostitutes. Some were victims.
Human trafficking is defined as when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel a victim for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
Over the past year, Clinton police and fire department employees have done extensive training to identify human trafficking and how to effectively rescue victims.
“Human trafficking isn’t just an international crime or something that only happens in other parts of the country: it could happen here in the metro area and especially along major Interstate corridors in Mississippi,” said Chief Ford Hayman. “Human trafficking is in most cases a hidden crime that operates in the dark. The more we can educate the public and raise awareness to its existence the more quickly we can identify victims and perpetrators.”
The suspects were identified online as they tried to set up meetings for paid sex. For the victims of the trafficking, there’s a lifeline.
“Put a hold on the last girl that was brought in. There’s a lady with human trafficking that’s coming in to speak with her,” Detective Robert Nordan could be heard saying after a 19-year-old woman came in and was arrested was originially from Milwaukee, and she had been kicked out of her mother’s home in Canton. She told us she had only been “working” for about two weeks.
“Oftentimes we see drugs as the catalyst that older men use to turn the teenage girls to prostitution, they’ll get these girls hooked on something like prescription opioids, which a lot of people view as less dangerous than street drugs,” said Detective Jamie White. “Then once they’re hooked, the ‘pimp,’ for lack of a better word, is the only source they know for the drugs and they’ll do anything to get them, which is where the prostitution comes in.”
The suspects and victims came from all over, Sprowles said.
“We’ve made arrests from Michigan, we effectively arrested one last night from Florida. Somebody from Carthage, we’ve made an arrest from Lawrence County,” said Sprowles. “So we’re working not just Jackson area issues, but we’re bringing people to us who have issues from all over.”
Arrests include individuals from the metro area as well as Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida, and Virginia.
One arrest from Florida is Corey Myers, age 29. He was charged with felony enticement of a child to meet for sexual purposes. Police say he arranged to meet a 14-year-old boy who was really a detective.
“It’s a widespread issue and we want to be a part of fixing the problem. It’s a largely rated issue, so it’s a hard problem to really get ahead of so we want to do our part,” said Sprowles.
Detectives did not identify anything to suggest that human traffickers are operating extensively in Clinton. The I-20 corridor is a thoroughfare for traffickers as they travel the country, however.
The FBI Human Trafficking task force also carried on an operation this weekend in Jackson.
Clinton police take human trafficking seriously and encourage anyone who might have information pertaining to human trafficking in the area to contact CPD with tips for further investigation.
If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call and make a report to the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.