University of Southern Mississippi opens center for human trafficking research center
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WLBT) - Human trafficking is no myth, and it’s happening around the state.
According to the national human trafficking hotline, hundreds of cases are reported annually, despite the case count experts thinking there are inaccuracies within the data.
“Victims or survivors, we use those words interchangeably. But, they do not disclose what is happening to them,” says Dr. Tamara Hurst, the co-director of the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Either they don’t realize what’s happening to them or the fear and stigma are so overwhelming that they feel like they can’t disclose, and they’ve also been let down by many of our systems whether it’s healthcare or law enforcement, child welfare, or the courts.”
Experts like Dr. Tamara Hurst are working to fix that.
Dr. Hurst has been focused on anti-trafficking in Mississippi for nine years. One of her goals is to change the way people view human trafficking. She says it’s sensationalized… and she thinks movies could be the blame for that perspective.
“People start thinking of the movie Taken and maybe that does happen. That’s not what we see typically in Mississippi so that leads to people saying it’s not here in the state and it doesn’t really happen,” said Hurst. “When we know for a fact in observing particularly our youth in youth court or what’s happening in our emergency rooms. People are experiencing manipulation, exchange of sex, or labor for survival. And it’s against the law.
Dr. Hurst says young people, like those in the foster care system or in youth court, are more vulnerable than others to manipulation.
“Typically, in a trafficking or exploitative situation, they are praying in marginalized populations. We have a wealth of marginalized populations in our state. Those who are impoverished or maybe don’t have very much formal education or just struggle to survive for day-to-day needs. These are the people that are exploited for either sex or labor and this goes for adults as well.”
She says having a better understanding of risk factors helps with the response. That’s why the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training was created.
The center, also known as CHRT, will be housed at USM.
Dr. Hurst says it will take some doing for victims to realize there are people who want to help. But, developing a better system when a victim is identified helps.
Doctors, law enforcement, and mental health workers will be trained in this program to create change.
“Addressing trafficking is a multidisciplinary effort. There are multiple agencies that have to be involved and each one has to be trained with a consistent method and a path forward for them to respond that’s appropriate and trauma-informed,” Hurst stated.
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