Mississippi launches website to report suspected human trafficking to further engage the public in the fight against the sex trade

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Thursday, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation launched their new website for people to report suspected cases of human trafficking.

“This is modern-day slavery,” says Assistant Police Chief Doran Johnson of the Columbus Police Department. “This does happen and it’s happening closer than where we think it’s happening. It’s happening in our neighborhoods, in our communities.”

That is the harsh reality the Department of Public Safety wants people to understand when it comes to human trafficking. Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell says he has spoken with victims who spent years trapped inside.

“The victimization started early on, but it continued even while they were in college,” he says. “They were (still) being used as part of the sex trade.”

The joint effort with the Bureau of Investigation is aimed at educating the public about human trafficking, while also making it easier for them to report suspicious activity.

“We almost operate solely on mostly tips,” says Assistant Chief Johnson. “That’s solely how we get the information that (trafficking) might be happening.”

According to the Department of Public Safety, there were 214 reports of human trafficking in the state of Mississippi in 2020, 210 of which were for sex trafficking. 202 of those reports involved possible minors. The most common situation involved victims being sold by their own family members.

“All too often, we see scenarios where the parents have drug issues or maybe a family member does and the children end up being bartered as part of a means to obtain more illegal narcotics,” Tindell says.

With multiple interstate corridors running through Mississippi, Assistant Chief Johnson says most of the reports they get involve people looking to hide out in a small town.

“A lot of times these are people that are transiting through Columbus and stopping at certain local motels that we’ll get tips on every now and then,” he says. “Certainly information that there might be some trafficking going on.”

The assistant police chief says victims, especially young women who traffickers can move around with in public, will often try and signal someone that they are in danger.

“If they can get descriptions, and they can get cars and license tags, and all that kind of stuff and relay it back to us, that helps us track those things down,” he says.

Assistant Chief Johnson says having the website helps expand the reach of law enforcement agencies across the country, because traffickers rarely stay put.

“They’re moving from city to city, so when you have a central place to be able to connect and get information and hopefully track down some of these traffickers and catch some of these traffickers,” he says.

The website provides resources to help victims of human trafficking, numbers to contact to report suspected human trafficking incidents as well as information on other anti-human trafficking measures.

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