ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - Some Jackson County students are sending out a warning to their peers: Don't get caught in the human trafficking ring!
It all started when a St. Martin High student was making a calendar for the new year and found out that Monday, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. As she learned the horrifying details of this $30 billion industry, it pushed her to take action.
It was a disturbing sight, two teenage girls sitting on the ground bound and gagged. They are actually students at St. Martin High who wanted to send out a powerful message about the dangers of human trafficking.
"This is trying to show this is how prostitution works. This is how human trafficking works. People are enslaved. They are forced to be prostitutes," said St. Martin High Senior Heather Gillespie.
To encourage her peers to declare that "their bodies are not for sale," Heather Gillespie and her friends wrote red X's on students' hands. Gillespie is the leader of the school youth group Amplifi Student Ministries. She organized the dramatic display in front of the cafeteria to raise awareness about forced labor and sexual exploitation, even in South Mississippi.
"So it's right here where we live and you don't realize how big of a deal it is. And the fact that 50-percent of the people who are trafficked are 16 or younger, it's such a huge deal to me, because I'm only 17 and that's all of my friends," said Gillespie.
The crime hit close to home for Jackson County Pastor Autumn Hall. She said a year ago, her younger sister met a man in California for what she thought was a modeling job, but ended up being held against her will.
"The police had to come and actually get her out. It was devastating to know she had been through that, that fear had happened in her life, and the potential of what could have been," said Hall.
Through posters, flyers and support bracelets, the students are taking a stand against this crime.
"The whole point of this is to show people how to identify human trafficking and how to report it, so we can make a difference and hopefully, free some slaves in our own country," said Gillespie.
The student group is also selling 500 red rubber bracelets for $1 each. The proceeds will go to the Not for Sale Foundation, which protects people around the world against modern-day slavery and human trafficking.