Human trafficking, a form of slavery, doesn't just happen overseas in prostitution rings or on television. It's a nasty, ugly reality—and it happens right here in Mississippi.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center data show 17 human-trafficking cases reported from January to March of this year alone and 29 calls to its national hotline from this state. Indicators on the center's website show that victims and survivors identified as having "high" indicators that they were trafficked. Of the 17 cases reported in the first part of 2016, 12 of those cases are sex-trafficking cases, the center's data show. (These numbers could be low because the center can only record what is reported to their own hotline.)
The state is aware of the problem here. Lawmakers and advocates are working together to find solutions—but slowly.
The governor put together a task force to study and make recommendations about trafficking in late 2014. The task force met eight times and found significant holes in the state's system, reporting to the governor by July 1, 2015. Then nothing was done, at least publicly.
Then, the Legislature passed a bill this session to change the definition of an "abused child" to include a "trafficked child." That recommendation was in the governor's task-force report—which his office declined to provide to the Jackson Free Press.
The House Performance Based Budgeting Committee is bringing together all state agency, nonprofit and advocacy stakeholders who work on human trafficking in the state together throughout the summer to work on addressing the state's issues and how they can be funded.
We applaud these efforts, but not the slow progress. A bill to create coordinated response teams and an emergency shelter for victims died on the Senate calendar supposedly due to lack of funding, but the Legislature approved diverting millions of dollars away from the state's fund in the name of tax cuts and a conservative agenda.
"It is abundantly clear that Mississippi has no strategic plan or competent service delivery for victims of labor and sex trafficking. Coordination of care with oversight from the domestic-violence shelters approved by the state is recommended," the governor's task-force report says.
Why was the report not published publicly? Why are gaps in our state's system of care so wide that no one can figure out how to coordinate a reporting procedure or an agency to collect data? And worst of all, why are the different branches of government not communicating?
Members of the Performance Based Budgeting Committee were not aware of the governor's task force on human trafficking nor of the 83-page report of recommendations. A coordinated effort and timely communications among all branches of government and open communication are absolutely necessary. But at the heart of the state's slow progress in curbing human trafficking points to a larger issue: You can't fix problems without confronting them first.