Human trafficking is real. It happens here and you can do something about it. That's the message Ernie Allen wants to get across to South Mississippi.
Allen is the founder and president of both the National and International Centers for Missing and Exploited Children. He came into town from Washington D.C. on Thursday to speak at the Gulf Coast Social Work Conference. Some in the audience wiped away tears as they listened to Allen.
"We are seeing massive increases in child pornography most of which involves pre-adolescent children and massive increases in commercial exploitation, the sale of children for sex," Allen said.
While it is tough to get an exact number, Allen said it is estimated that 100,000 children every year become a victim of trafficking.
"We think that number is conservative, so this is not a small problem," Allen said.
The problem is not just in big cities. Allen stressed it is everywhere, including South Mississippi.
"I talked to a Biloxi police officers about cases he's working, five arrests he's made. I talked with a Pascagoula police officer and social workers. To not find this problem in any community is simply not to look for it," Allen said.
Bringing attention to the problem and educating people on what to look for is key.
Susie Harvill works hard to do that every day with her group Advocates for Freedom.
Harvill said, "We have helped 92 victims in the past two years and they range from age three to 58 and most of them are children. Most of them have a quota of $1,000 a day to earn and if they don't, they are brutally forced or beaten or hurt."
Harvill said if you see a child that looks scared, does not communicate, seems malnourished or in pain, you should report it.
"Never approach a victim or someone with a victim. There are always eyes on those victims," Harvill said.
Allen said, "People who care, people who are committed can bring about real change."
Allen challenges everyone to make a difference and be an advocate for those who cannot defend themselves. If you believe you know someone that may be a victim of human trafficking, call Advocates for Freedom at 228-806-3492 or the national hotline at 888-373-7888. You can also visit: http://advocatesforfreedom.com/
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