GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal enterprise in the world. On Thursday a group spread awareness of the problem and how to spot it at the Knight Nonprofit Center in Gulfport.
The effects are life-changing. Victims are often coerced or tortured into performing sex acts. At times, the victims are in plain sight.
"They don't like being called pimps. They like to be called managers," said Rene Davis the Community Outreach Educator at the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. "And the latest thing they like to be called is mentor. They're mentors,"
In a nutshell, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to secure labor or a sex act. Advocates at the human trafficking awareness observance ceremony want you to know this problem is likely happening in your town.
"Human trafficking does happen here on the Gulf Coast and today we just wanted to show awareness and that we stand up against human trafficking," said Krystle Hilliard, the Program Director at South Mississippi Child Advocacy Center.
According to the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, the draw for many criminals involved in trafficking is the money. Davis said these crimes generates more profits than Nike, Google and Starbucks combined. More often than not, the victims are not easily identifiable.
"You may see somebody that never has time off from work," said Davis. "They don't seem to be able to leave the place they are working. You may see somebody who always has somebody around. This is happening at schools. It's happening at homes."
The toll it takes on victims is life-altering, said Davis, adding that many victims become emotionally vulnerable.
"It was such an undercover operation, but now it's being exposed and I just think it's just a tragedy," said Harrison County Supervisor Kent Jones.
If you suspect that someone is a victim, Davis said don't hesitate to call the authorities and let them know.
"You can call law enforcement if you feel like this is a situation where someone is a victim," said Davis. "If you are witnessing something like that you can definitely call."
To report an incidence of human trafficking, call your local law enforcement or you can contact the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence at 800-800-1396.