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Tougher Mississippi Laws Proposed for Human Trafficking

By Rhonda Miller | Published 16 Feb 2012 08:24pm | comments

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal businesses in the world, estimated to have millions of victims coerced into sexual slavery or forced labor. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports proposed legislation in Mississippi would bring stiffer penalties for human traffickers and protection for victims.

".. the prostitute that’s selling their services the same as the john that’s buying them and the same as the pimp that’s selling them."

At a training session for state prosecutors from across the country in Ocean Springs Thursday, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said it takes a community to uncover human trafficking.

"If people like social workers begin to recognize it, if prosecutors recognize, hey, this girl is a teenage prostitute, but is somebody making her do this, or is she being coerced or sold, then we will begin to see a lot more reports of it. Because we know it’s happening in other states and in other areas. It is the third highest economic crime out there. You know, they can sell a young girl time and time again, and you only sell drugs once."

Mississippi Assistant Attorney General Heather Wagner says proposed legislation would increase some penalties from misdemeanors to felonies.

"And if they were prosecuted under the trafficking statute, it would provide protections for the victim being made to engage in those services by force, fraud or coercion, yet penalize the offender with a felony that’s punishable by up to 20 years."

Human trafficking is not just about sexual slavery, but also applies to labor situations, sometimes in agriculture, where workers become virtually enslaved.

Judy McKee is program director for the National Association of Attorneys General.

"It’s our experience is that it happens in every community, it’s just very hidden, and one of the most important things is citizen education.  If you can get the churches to have information about this and disseminate information, you’ll find that more people will understand what human trafficking is."

Attorney General Jim Hood said talking with colleagues from the across the country puts the issue into perspective.

"The statistics show the odds are we have it here in Mississippi, and there’s  no doubt we have some cases we’re working on, but it’s going to be some time."

The proposed Mississippi legislation, Senate Bill 2104, has been referred to the Judiciary Committee for review.

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