10 people arrested after undercover human trafficking operation
LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – A joint operation involving the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, the Mississippi Bureaus of Investigation and Narcotics, Homeland Security, Child Protective Services, and the Center for Violence Protection nets 10 arrests.
The suspects, including two women from Memphis and one from Gordo, were arrested Thursday night in Columbus.
They are believed to be involved in a human trafficking ring.
Suspects face a variety of charges from Exploitation of Children, Human Trafficking, and Prostitution to drug offenses.
In all, there were about a dozen felony and misdemeanor charges leveled against the suspects.
“Operation 3-Point” was put in place to recover juvenile victims from sexual exploitation, and adult victims of human trafficking, and to identify and arrest sex
traffickers and child predators.
The arrest of 10 people and the identification of eight human trafficking victims.
Sheriff Eddie Hawkins said while this mission was successful, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human trafficking.
“It’s not just here in Lowndes County, it’s everywhere but I was really surprised to see how fast this activity was taking place, ” said Hawkins.
During the operation, undercover detectives posed as children on social media platforms, mobile apps, and online dating sites.
Their goal was to investigate individuals who prey upon and travel to meet children for illegal sexual activity.
The sheriff said it was shocking to see the number of people they were able to target online.
” When the investigators would get online and start communicating with these suspects and how quickly we were out here making arrests for the activity that was going on here at the local hotels,” said Hawkins.
When it comes to predators, age is not a deterrent.
“These predators are monitoring or trolling these sites looking for young victims. We actually had one travel from the Starkville area over to Columbus under the pretense that he was meeting a 14-year-old. That’s the scary part. To these predators, it doesn’t matter how these young girls are they are out for self-gratification,” said Hawkins.
The sheriff said not all of the victims choose this life, and many of them do not know how to get out of the industry.
The Center For Violence Prevention was on hand during the operation and had recovering victims talk to the rescued individuals about the help they can receive to turn their lives around.
“We want to show them that there is a better life and to help them make better decisions and get them the treatment and services they need,” said Hawkins.
No charges were filed against these victims.
The sheriff said it is always important for parents to monitor their children’s electronic devices.
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