Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Human Trafficking/Online Recruitment Not Just a Big City Issue

Fear for your children's safety never goes away, even when they become adults. That fear hit close to home for a Louisville family recently.

Living in rural America, we often believe that many crimes that are prevalent in the larger cities don't affect us. But the reality is that almost any crime can happen here and sometimes are even more prevalent in rural areas.

Human trafficking in some form, exists around the world, around the country, in Jackson, Mississippi and in Winston County.

According to the Mississippi Department of Health, "Human trafficking affects 12 to 27 million men, women and children worldwide who are held in slavery. Its victims can be found working in restaurants or homes, on farms or construction sites, or in the sex trade. It is a worldwide problem, but also a local one. Human trafficking is happening in Mississippi, with Mississippians as victims".

Human trafficking is defined as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for labor services or commercial sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion; for the purpose of exploitation, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. It includes any commercial sex involving a minor. People who are subjected to involuntary servitude are held against their will and forced to work, frequently under the threat of violence to themselves or their families."

A simple internet search reveals multiple arrests across the state in recent years for human trafficking and related crimes- most involving prostitution. Twenty nine were arrested in a single sting operation in Clinton last year. Six individuals were arrested in Marion County in 2019 as well.

Homelessness, drug abuse, psychological problems and simply the naivete of the young can make individuals a potential target of human traffickers. Social media and online ads have added to the explosion of cases and attempts to lure individuals into situations that make them vulnerable.

Recently a student from a local family was contacted through Instagram by an individual representing himself as a talent agent and offering work as a model for commercials in the Jackson area... After several conversations, the student was asked to meet the individual at an outlet mall in the metro area. When the student indicated that she would need to discuss this with her parents, the individual became belligerent and ultimately discontinued the contact.

While there is no way to determine the exact purpose of this contact, it does raise concern. Social media contact whether through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or SnapChat or other platforms is a prime method for interacting with potential victims and often used to lure underage children.
Winston County Sheriff Jason Pugh indicated that while direct abductions are not something we have seen in the Winston County area, drug use does lead to exploitation, where in effect, an addict is held captive for access to their drug of choice.

"It can be a horrible situation," said Pugh. "Drugs and homelessness are our biggest issues here.  As far as online, the best advice I can give anyone is: know what your children are doing online and educate them on the methods that may be used to entice them. I also want to stress that no one, child or adult should ever meet someone they don't know unless it is in a safe public place. If you are selling something online and must meet with a person, do it in front of the sheriff's office or the police station and have someone else with you."

To learn more about child abduction and how to protect your children, visit the U.S. Department of Justice website at   https://www.justice.gov/psc.  The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.

For resources in Mississippi, if you are a victim, or you suspect that human trafficking is taking place, call the State Attorney General's Human Trafficking Coordinator at 1-800-829-6766

State law requires anyone who suspects that a person under 18 is being trafficked to report it to the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Call 1-800-222-8000.