State gets poor grade in dealing with sex trafficking

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - It was released Thursday morning by Sharedhope International, an organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking and slavery across the nation. In line with its mission, the report gives states across the country a letter grade.

More than half were given failing grades. Mississippi is one of them, with a final grade of D.

"The problem in the United States is people do not realize that the ordinary product is the ordinary middle school girl," said Linda Smith with the organization.

The report points out in Mississippi there's no state law clearly identifying a victim of trafficking as an actual victim and currently there's no mandated training on domestic minor sex trafficking for law enforcement. The report also points out that the state's prostitution offenses do not identify a minor committing the act as a victim of sex trafficking, leaving them, the victims, open to prosecution.

Mississippi law also doesn't require parental rights to be given up by those convicted of sex trafficking. While Mississippi does have some victim-friendly judicial procedures, according to the report, the state still has a long way to go.

"The stealing of innocence of our children should not be tolerated anywhere, in any community and in any state," said Smith.

Smith says the answer lies at the state capitol, with lawmakers.

"The state legislatures are the place that have to bring about the laws that will protect these children, the laws that say they're victims, not criminals," said Smith.

Attorney General Jim Hood is well aware of what's happening and is currently out of town meeting with the National Association of Attorneys General about this very issue. He says there will be a legislative package addressing it, ready for lawmakers when they convene next month.

Mississippi does have an anti-human trafficking law already in place which some other states don't, but the report claims the law doesn't clearly apply to the purchase of sex acts with a minor. By strengthening what's already there, the hope is to stop a growing concern.

"If the state's laws are not strong, there will not be justice for these kids," said Smith.

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