In December 2014 Gov. Phil Bryant created a state-wide task force focused on human trafficking.
“We’ve got to stop it,” Bryant said. “(Victims) should not be put through the human trafficking corridor that passes through the state of Mississippi.”
Entrusted with bringing together various agencies and coordinating the effort to fight human trafficking in Mississippi, the task force will also review current practices regarding the response by the state to human trafficking, and will suggest new ideas.
Human trafficking might, at first glance, appear to be an issue that is not pressing in Mississippi, but Brittney Eakins, a political science major who served as the president of Southern Miss Students for Human Rights and focused her capstone on human trafficking confirms Bryant’s statement.
“Human trafficking is most definitely an issue in Mississippi,” Eakins said. “Many people wouldn’t expect that, (but) only because they do not understand fully the many different forms of human trafficking.”
The members of the task force were selected from across the state, and one of those members actually makes her home at The University of Southern Mississippi. Tamara Hurst is a professor of social work on campus, whose professional life has been devoted to helping deal with the issues of sex trafficking, especially in regards to the child sex trade.
Hurst was appointed to the task force in large part to help educate other members who may not have the same amount of knowledge regarding human trafficking and its various issues.
“I feel my research, training and experience in the field of child abuse and child sexual exploitation are my biggest contributions to the task force,” Hurst said. “I also have worked on another state task force and bring with me ideas of what might make the most impact in Mississippi.”
Hurst also pointed out the role universities and other research institutions can play in the battle against human trafficking.
“Universities have a unique and underutilized opportunity to address human trafficking from a workforce development perspective,” Hurst said. “In the USM Social Work Department, the topics of labor and sex trafficking are addressed in our forensics elective.”
It is also important to remember that it is not only certain types of specialists who have a part to play in putting a stop to human trafficking.
“Social workers represent just one profession that might come into contact with victims of trafficking,” Hurst said.
“Graduates of criminal justice, nursing, mental health, business and education programs also have roles to play in addressing this issue. Members of these professions can work together to assist victims, identify exploiters and prevent exploitation.”
The task force itself reflects this diversity of roles and is composed of a wide variety of not only law enforcement officials and academics, but also business leaders, state representatives, community representatives and therapeutic experts.
Their recommendations are due to Bryant July 1 of this year.