LEE COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – Human trafficking is not only a problem for big cities, or other countries, law enforcement said it happens here in Northeast Mississippi.
It’s estimated that one in six runaways is likely a sex trafficking victim.
While human trafficking laws have strengthened in Mississippi, finding help and shelter for victims has been a challenge. But two churches have joined forces to provide long term care to those who have been victimized.
It was Super Bowl weekend and Lee County Sheriff’s deputies assisted the Mississippi Highway Patrol with a traffic stop in East Tupelo.
“It had two individuals in it, along with a stolen vehicle, two young girls in the vehicle were more than certain victims of sex trafficking,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
While the suspects were arrested, there was no place to take the women who police believed were victims of sex trafficking.
“What do you do with these victims? There was not any place in the state of Mississippi,” said Sheriff Johnson.
But soon there will be a place for victims of human trafficking.
The Anchor Church recently purchased the former First Baptist Church of Verona.
Pastor David Ball said the second floor of the old “Education Center” will be remodeled and will become a place where victims of sex trafficking can find hope and healing.
“There will be two full apartments, and one will be resident director, give them a safe place they can begin recovery and be ministered to,” said Pastor Ball.
Pastor Ball understands that turning 7,000 square feet of Sunday school space into a living space for women who have been victims of sex trafficking is a huge undertaking.
But he also believes there are individuals, churches and other groups who will be willing to help out, once they hear about the need.
We’re going to need medical attention for these girls, medical care for these girls, there’s big huge amounts of trauma, therapy, that’s going to be needed for these girls that they ‘re going through and because of that we see a team of churches coming together to attack this issue. We’re willing to house it, we’re willing to be on the front, but we’re just the tip of the spear when it comes to addressing this issue,” said Pastor Ball.
The ministry and outreach to victims of sex trafficking will be called Transformation Garden. Pastor Ball hopes the Garden can start taking in residents by July.
The Anchor Church also oversees separate, live in Christian discipleship programs for both men and women.