January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: What you need to know

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Published: Jan. 15, 2023 at 6:33 PM CST
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - Human trafficking is an on-going issue that the United States is fighting.

“It exploits our most vulnerable populations, those who are poor, those who are unemployed, those are who are marginalized, either LGBTQ, racial minorities,” said Tamara Hurst, the co-director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training, said.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and is dedicated to educating, teaching and making people aware of the signs of the crime.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

No one trait defines human trafficking victims, however, many of the ways that victims are lured are the same.

Often, victims are deceived by false promises of intangible valuables such as love, a good job or a stable life, the U.S. Department of Justice reports.

Hurst said that although they do not have accurate numbers, trafficking takes place in Pine Belt communities.

“We know it’s here,” Hurst said. “We know it’s in our communities, our neighborhoods are our backyards.

“We know that it’s within our families. We just need to start being aware and reporting.”

More than 10,000 incidents were reported in 2021 involving more than 16,000 victims, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Hurst said that education can bring awareness to the cause.

“We need education in our schools, in our communities, in our community health centers and our community mental health centers, so that everybody becomes aware of both sex and labor trafficking,” Hurst said.

To learn more about human trafficking, USM has a few upcoming events.

On Jan. 24, the USM Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training will be partnering with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi State Department of Health for a summit from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The event will include educational information as well as a panel discussion.

On the same day, a film, “Sextortion: The hidden pandemic” will be shown at the Joe Paul Theater from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The film explores the details of sexual exploitation of children.

To report a suspected human trafficking case, call the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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