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MDOT working to fight against human trafficking

Graphic courtesy of TeleSouth Communications Inc.

MDOT is working to fight against human trafficking. This year, the Super Bowl will be held in Atlanta Georgia and Willie Huff, Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Office of Enforcement said trafficking is expected to be heightened during this time as any major event attracts suspects and victims.

“People are traveling there to be there for the Super Bowl week. There will be a lot of parties, a lot of single individual there that may be looking for company so, the resources for that, and I hate to say it that way, but its true, the resources to entertain those folks are moving from other parts of the country to that area for that event the same as they do for the world series, or any other major event like that.”

MDOT is primarily a commercial vehicle regulator and inspects vehicles at their 13 sites across the state and says they look for telltale signs of human trafficking during those inspections. Huff said that while there are a lot of good truckers out there, 18 wheelers with sleepers are prime vehicles to carry across the U.S. However, the victims are not always being sold for sexual purposes as some cases can be victims of domestic violence.

RELATED: MDOT continues the fight against human trafficking

“While we were inspecting the truck we noticed that the door handle and the window handles on the passenger side were inoperable and we separated the driver from the passenger and learned that she had been unable to leave him over the last two months, so we were able to get her separated from him, get her to a facility where she could rest and hide and was able to recover and get back to her family.”

In 2017, MDOT solved 24 cases in Mississippi. While the MDOT enforcement officers have been trained on what to look for, Huff said it often comes down to a gut feeling and said that citizens can help learn the signs of human trafficking as well.

“We all stop in restaurants and cafes and we can be paying attention too, not just the law enforcement,” said Huff. “This is an all-encompassing responsibility to all of the citizens to be aware because it is happening in Mississippi.”

Common warning signs include an individual younger than the companion and someone who is hovering over their victim.

“When you are in a restaurant situation for sex trafficking the victim will not make eye contact with you. Look for those type of things and get a tag number if you can, but we want to caution folks to not do any enforcement action on their own.”

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has introduced legislation this session that would, among other things, change Mississippi’s law so that, regardless of the circumstance, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution. The bill (HB 571) passed from the House Judiciary B committee January 21st and is now ready to be taken up for discussion and a vote on the House floor.

“What we don’t want to happen is for us to find out later that a human trafficking victim came through one of our facilities and we missed that victim and had the opportunity to get them away from that lowlife that he or she was running with,” Huff said. 

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