JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Human trafficking happens under the radar and it’s not a story where we can often introduce you to the victims. But their champions are finding reason to celebrate.
“I’m proud to say that Mississippi has now received an 'A' grade from Shared Hope International in our efforts to fight human trafficking,” said Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
It’s not just the improved grade but what that grade will mean for future cases of human trafficking.
“What we’ve seen happening, in not only our state but many other states across the country, is that minors are charged with prostitution,” explained Executive Director of The Center for Violence Prevention Sandy Middleton.
Let’s rewind to explain how we got here.
Speaker Philip Gunn held a summit on the issue last year. He championed the issue as the 2019 legislative session kicked off and a bill was passed and signed into law that advocates say is a game changer for protecting the most vulnerable.
“It will help us to focus on who the real criminals are," noted Middleton. "The real criminals are the traffickers and the buyers. So, when we’re not arresting the child or the victim in our minds, we’re turning around and considering who is truly the offender and that’s going to be the john and the trafficker.”
But, realistically, the report card may not mean anything to the traffickers. So, the work won’t end.
“This is an issue that hits home for all of us," added Gunn. "This is something I did not know till two years ago. But it’s right here in the Jackson Metro area. It’s all around the state. It’s in your hometown and everyone of us needs to come together to fight this issue.”
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has formed a Human Trafficking Division that’s backed with federal funds. And new statewide task force of state and federal partners was announced in September.
As more resources are devoted to combating the problem, the state is also partnering with organizations to provide more resources for the victims.