In 2019, 148 cases of human trafficking were reported in the state of Mississippi according to information provided by the Human Trafficking Hotline.
To help make the number of cases decrease, two Golden Triangle groups are hosting separate walks to raise awareness about the human trafficking in October.
Walk for Blue will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sally Kate Park, block of 580 Commerce St., in West Point.
Advocates for Freedom advocate Melissa Merideth said the prayer walk will start and end at the park. Participants will have the opportunity to wear blue wigs — blue is the universal color for human trafficking prevention — and hold picket signs. During a sand ceremony, participants will pour blue sand into sidewalk cracks, symbolizing all the “human trafficking victims who have fallen through the cracks” of human trafficking, Merideth said.
A human trafficking victim is expected to talk about their experience. Advocates for Freedom founder Susie Harvill is scheduled to host an education session. Merideth said they expect the entire event to last a little under two hours.
Merideth said organizers plan to honor police officers at the event, but also hope firefighters and those in the healthcare industry participate, as they are often at the scene of crimes and other events in which human trafficking may occur.
“They need to be educated on what things to look for,” she said of human trafficking. “(Signs of human trafficking) can be so subtle that if you’re not educated, you might miss them.”
The business of human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion in illegal profits every year, according to the International Labor Organization. There is no estimate as to how much of that is produced in Mississippi.
Between July 1, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2020, there were 235 human trafficking reports in Mississippi, according to Ashlee Lucas, statewide human trafficking coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations. Sex trafficking accounted for 226 of the reports, and 124 of those were reported to be trafficked by a family member.
Founded in Gulfport, Advocates for Freedom is a faith-based organization dedicated to ending the exploitation, sale and enslavement of men, women and children. It is working to build its membership to become a statewide organization, Merideth said.
“We’re trying to get set up so we have regions in the north, south and middle,” she said. “One of our goals is to get another housing unit for the victims.”
She noted that statewide, Mississippi has one safehouse for human trafficking victims, while another one is in the process of being built.
“We have two houses in all of the state for these people and that’s very unfortunate,” Merideth said.
Merideth serves as an AFF advocate for northeastern Mississippi. She noted that there are advocates in Noxubee County, Corinth, Meridian and Gulfport.
Walk for Freedom
First Presbyterian Church of Starkville and the Mississippi State student organization, No Longer Bound, will host another walk that raises awareness of human trafficking, which will start at 10 a.m. Oct. 16 at the church, 307 University Drive.
Participants can register online at https://www.a21.org//shop-event.php?intid=2886 or at the starting line.
No Longer Bound, is MSU’s only organization devoted to fighting human trafficking.
Lillian Hafley, the host of Walk For Freedom Mississippi, said the walk will last about an hour and half.
“We will begin with a video from Mississippians Against Human Trafficking, before conducting the walking part of the event,” she said.
A 24-hour national human trafficking hotline is available at 888-373-7888 or text the word “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. Internet live chat is available at humantraffickinghotline.org/state/mississippi .