Wendy Bradford, founder of Beautiful Ones, promotes awareness about sex-trafficking. She says, when anyone under age 18 is involved in a sex act where an exchange takes place, it's Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. It can be for shelter, food, drugs, anything of value. The organization partnered with Belhaven University seniors, who interviewed professionals in law enforcement, the judicial system and government agencies. They targeted Hinds, Rankin, Madison and Warren Counties. Bradford says they identified 90 cases and most were trafficked by relatives.
"Parents, mostly identified single moms, were trafficking their children, which means they were allowing perpetrators to access their children and be exploited for sexual purposes." said Bradford.
Bradford said, poverty, lack of education, and family structures can make children more vulnerable and traffickers prey on them. However, she says, these professional criminals target children from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Sandy Middleton, with the Center for Violence Prevention, says, the task force created by Governor Phil Bryant, is assessing how agencies statewide can identify cases and help victims.
"There's are wide range of services that are necessary to deal with these victims. So, we're taking a long look to make sure that we put the appropriate protocols in place, and that we have the agencies and the support available." said Middleton.
Advocates believe there are many cases that are not reported and others that are mislabeled as sexual assaults and juvenile delinquencies.