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Officials launch Mississippi Human Trafficking Council

Graphic courtesy of TeleSouth Communications Inc.

Mississippi continues its fight against human trafficking.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division joined U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, Southern District of Mississippi, U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar, Northern District of Mississippi, Commissioner Marshall Fisher, Mississippi Department of Public Safety, and Philip Gunn, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, on Tuesday to announce the creation and launch of a new, statewide Mississippi Human Trafficking Council.

Building on the foundation established by Governor Phil Bryant’s Human Trafficking Task Force Report from 2015, as well as task forces from around the country, the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council’s mission will be to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute criminals using a victim-centered, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary model.

The Council will be led by three Co-Chairs: (1) Susan Bradley, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Mississippi; (2) Kathlyn Van Buskirk, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Mississippi; and (3) Ashlee Lucas, Mississippi Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

“The Department of Justice is proud to announce the formation of the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council, which will serve as a crucial component to ongoing efforts to secure justice for victims of sex and labor trafficking crimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This is the first statewide trafficking council, and it will help law enforcement more effectively prosecute criminals and protect the rights of victims. This is another strong step in the Department of Justice’s commitment to fighting violent crime and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.”

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity, and the monsters who commit these crimes against our children and our fellow human beings will continue to face swift and certain justice in our district,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst. “This Council will coordinate multiple entities and agencies, and help our citizens effectively battle this growing epidemic in our state. I want to thank our law enforcement, our prosecutors, and our governmental and non-governmental partners for stepping up to take this fight to the traffickers. At the end of the day, this is all about protecting victims, preventing trafficking and prosecuting the criminals.”

“We are so pleased to announce the launching of multiple regional human trafficking task forces throughout the state, Northern and Southern Districts,” said U.S. Attorney Lamar. “Not only are these task forces collaborative efforts by federal, state and local law enforcement, but also state service agencies and non-government service providers. The Human Trafficking Council and its committees, comprised of members from both Districts, will provide valuable direction and support.”

“The Mississippi Department of Public Safety is dedicated to building an effective Human Trafficking Division to combat those who prey upon, victimize and traffic others for sexual or labor purposes,” said Commissioner Marshall Fisher. “With the aid of the Human Trafficking Council, MDPS’s Human Trafficking Division has access to a team of state and federal resources to thwart these threats to our communities.”

“Strengthening and improving Mississippi’s human trafficking laws has been and continues to be one of my top priorities,” said Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn. “It’s important to me that we make the process work for these victims while we support those law enforcement personnel on the ground across our state who are on the front lines fighting human trafficking. I envision the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council being an important resource to complement our state’s five existing regional task forces by collaborating and offering assistance when and where needed,” said Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office provided a breakdown of the Council’s structure.

I. Steering Committee

The Council will have a Steering Committee, overseen by the Council Co-Chairs, and will be made up of the five subcommittee chairpersons along with the Council Co-Chairs. The Steering Committee will serve as the primary policy making body of the Council. The Steering Committee will discuss and propose recommendations for the Council, upon which the Co-Chairs will vote to approve or disapprove of such recommendations.

II. Subcommittees

The Council will consist of five subcommittees and will focus on all forms of domestic and international human trafficking, to include commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking, for the protection of both adult and minor victims. Each subcommittee chairperson will oversee the operation of each subcommittee, arranges logistics for meetings, keeps records of activities and issues, serves as a member of the Steering Committee and performs other duties as necessary for the efficient and productive operation of the Council.

The five subcommittees and chairpersons are:

  1. Outreach and Public Awareness Subcommittee
    Chair: Mandy Davis, Mississippi Department of Public Safety
  2. Strategic Planning and Trafficking Protocol Subcommittee
    Chair: Dr. Tamara Hurst, University of Southern Mississippi
  3. Policy and Legislation Subcommittee
    Co-Chairs: Angela Cockerham, Mississippi House of Representatives, Lora Hunter, Mississippi Department of Public Safety
  4. Training Subcommittee – Chair: Paula Broome, Mississippi Attorney General’s Office
  5. Victim Service Subcommittee – Co-Chairs: Hollie Jeffery, Children’s Advocacy Center of Mississippi, Heather Wagner, Mississippi Department of Health

III. Task Forces

The Council will also consist of small, regional Task Forces, made up of local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement, local prosecutors, and victim service providers, and will be led by an Assistant U.S. Attorney. These Task Forces will meet monthly and will share information, coordinate investigations, and discuss potential matters and active cases in preparation for prosecution.

The creation of the council was celebrated by many state leaders including Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“Human trafficking plagues communities across the country, including many in Mississippi,” Wicker said. “This new council demonstrates the commitment by our state and the federal government to combat this barbaric practice aggressively. By working together and sharing information, we can support more victims and put more traffickers behind bars.” – Senator Wicker.

“The formation of this statewide council represents a heightened effort to stop pervasive and sinister acts of human trafficking in Mississippi.  The coordination and support provided by the council will strengthen ongoing work in our communities to stop traffickers and help victims.

“I commend our U.S. Attorneys Mike Hurst and Chad Lamar and our state leadership for undertaking this important challenge.  I’ll do my part to support these efforts as a U.S. Senator, particularly in terms of federal programs that fight human trafficking.” – Senator Hyde-Smith.

Hyde-Smith serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and subcommittees with oversight over programs to prevent trafficking and protect victims.

The Department of Justice continues to fight human trafficking through investigating and prosecuting traffickers, dismantling transnational human trafficking networks, enhancing victim identification and protection of all victims of trafficking, and funding and providing domestic and international anti-trafficking programs. Information on the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found here. An update on human trafficking prosecution statistics can be found here.

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