Experts: Gangs are key in human trafficking industry

Updated: Feb. 11, 2021 at 11:06 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - There are people being trafficked daily in the streets and motels of Jackson. The life of someone being sold sex is something most of us can’t actually picture.

“The rapes, you know, the torture, the deprivation of food and water, the drug addiction, forcing women to be addicted and to take drugs to the point that they’re addicted,” said Sandy Middleton, the director of the Center for Violence Prevention.

Gangs of all kinds are the driving force behind much of the human trafficking industry. From Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs to street gangs, most of those organizations are funded in part by sex dollars.

“It’s a huge return on your investment. Drugs run out. Guns run out. People don’t,” said Pearl Police Chief Dean Scott.

“They can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year off of one woman, off of one girl, off of one 16-year-old runaway,” Middleton said.

Trafficking happens to all kinds of people. Gang members are identifying, stalking and recruiting victims from the frat houses to the phone apps.

But in many cases, it’s much simpler than that.

“Because we know that we have many runaways, we have children that we don’t even know where they are in the system, and Dean and I can pretty much tell you where they are,” Middleton said. “They’re in the streets.”

Scott says people still believe in the stereotypes of the gangs, seeing them as primarily violent and not necessarily very advanced. But gang members don’t always look like street gangs and biker gangs anymore. They may be anything from businessmen and coaches to barbers and politicians.

They’ve got advanced equipment, weapons, and communications systems that are often better than the ones police have, Scott said. So they’re not as simple as an uneducated society paints them.

“That’s not the acts of a stupid person,” Scott said. “They’re in it to make money, the only difference is that we have rules and they don’t.”

In the same way, Middleton says a human trafficking victim can be anyone. It’s happening not just here on the streets of Jackson, but also on college campuses, Scott said. It could be the woman behind you in the grocery store.

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