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Human trafficking operation helps five victims, leads to arrest in Hattiesburg

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 9:34 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A human trafficking operation in Hattiesburg on May 26 led to one arrest and helped five victims.

The Attorney General’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Mississippi Department of Corrections, the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office and members of the Pine Belt Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force all contributed to the operation.

“That was geared more toward the prostitution aspect of it and that is a form of human trafficking, especially if the females are being controlled,” said Forrest County Sheriff Charlie Sims. “You know the fact that we made one arrest doesn’t seem like a lot, but there were five victims that we identified, got services to. So maybe that will break their cycle and help them to get out of that. It may lead to more arrests down the road.”

Sims says his department takes the problem seriously and is allocating resources and manpower specifically to human trafficking and helping victims.

“Just recently, as early as this year, I got an investigator who went to a class specifically for human trafficking and identifying all the criteria there and what you need to prosecute it,” Sims said.

An important organization on the task force is the Center for Violence Prevention.

“Human trafficking is a prevalent problem everywhere, and we are so grateful that we have the task force here, the Pine Belt Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force,” said Sandy Middleton, executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention.

The Center for Violence Prevention provides resources and help to victims in the wake of their trauma and through their recovery. The center established the only long-term recovery plan for victims of trafficking in the state of Mississippi in 2017.

“We are able to offer that long-term restorative care that victims of human trafficking need,” Middleton said. “It’s important to understand that victims of human trafficking, whether it’s sex trafficking or labor trafficking, they’ve typically endured an unbelievable amount of trauma. Torture, rape, abuse, all sorts of horrible things have happened to them. So it’s not just something someone can get over in one day. It takes a very specialized approach in order to give these victims time to restore and recover from the things that have happened to them.”

And thanks to a House bill that passed last year creating the Victims Of Human Trafficking And Commercial Sexual Exploitation Fund, the center has designated funding to help victims.

“We help them with all of their needs on an emergent basis and also on a long-term basis,” Middleton said. “Our program includes all sorts of case management and therapy and advocacy. We can assist with any legal situation, legal problems that they have so it is truly a comprehensive approach to helping a victim recover from trafficking. This emergent model and specialized services model is so important as is the collaboration that we have with law enforcement, and we’re so grateful for it.”

If you or someone you know is in danger involving human trafficking, you can call the national help line number at 1-888-373-7888.

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