January is being recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It’s one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. The Mississippi Department of Transportation, or MDOT, is working with other agencies to spread awareness and combat the problem.
MDOT’s enforcement officers play a critical role in putting the brakes on trafficking and saving victims.
“Mississippi is on the very verge of having a large problem with human trafficking,” says Willie Huff, MDOT’s Chief Enforcement director.
Human trafficking is described as a form of modern-day slavery, where traffickers profit from the control and exploitation of others. Traffickers use different types of force, fraud or coercion to control victims for sex acts or labor services against their will.
“The news media statewide has covered human trafficking arrests by other agencies, prostitution arrests, pimps, that’s all human trafficking,” says Huff.
MDOT officials want to make sure their enforcement officers are well trained to recognize tell-tale signs that someone is being victimized.
Traffickers rely on roadways as their main means of transport. By using commercial vehicles, such as 18 wheelers, traffickers can quickly move victims from one location to another without getting caught.
“If you don’t know what to look for you’ll look over it,” says Huff. “If an individual is being shy or if an individual is being overprotective or over possessive of another individual, it might be something to make note of.”
MDOT is partnering with other state and local agencies.to help train employees and bring awareness to human trafficking.
Truck drivers also play a critical role in putting a stop to the growing problem.
“Who knows where they’re going but they’re definitely getting in these trucks,” says Jason Brigance. He has been a Mid-South truck driver for 13 years.
“You could have somebody in that bunk and they could be drugged and you’d never know it there’s a curtain that goes across. It’d be very easy to traffic people in a truck,” says Brigance. “It’s a lot of that happens. Daily. And you see it a lot. Every day.”
Brigance says he reported suspicious activity when he was on the road in Florida. “I think it was more container theft than trafficking but you never know in container situations. They could very easily transport 50-60 people like its nothing.”
The Mississippi Trucking Association is working closely with Truckers Against Trafficking to make sure drivers are well trained, and know what to look for and how to report it.
“We have company training and they tell you to be on the lookout for certain things such as that. People getting in trucks that you think are kinda suspicious, maybe even in danger,” says Brigance.
The Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and the state Attorney General’s Office are also teaming up to fight human trafficking. They are providing a data collection platform, which should give law enforcement the first concrete numbers on cases in Mississippi.
The following comes from the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
MOHS assists the Governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, led by the MS Attorney General’s Office, to bring awareness and training to law enforcement as well as private entities such as the trucking industry. This Task Force is currently formulating a plan to help victims of trafficking in Mississippi.
Members of the MS Office of Homeland Security are taking part in the Region IV Human Trafficking Working Group which is creating a work plan within the Southeast to:
• Harness local/community based groups to increase awareness and information sharing.
• Connect vetted resources for use in local trainings and outreach efforts.
• Emphasize and develop capacity to respond to labor trafficking.
• Support national efforts to increase the availability of actionable data.
MOHS and MDOT have worked with the MS Trucker’s Association and Truckers Against Trafficking Coalition to deliver training on human trafficking across Mississippi. Further training is scheduled for May of this year.
The MS Office of Homeland Security works closely with the MS Attorney General’s Office, the MS Department of Transportation and other federal, state and local agencies to combat human trafficking.