The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training (CHRT), in collaboration with other state agencies, will host the Secretary of State’s inaugural MBAT (Mississippi Businesses Against Trafficking) Summit on Jan. 24 at the University’s Hattiesburg campus. The summit is designed to provide awareness and preventive measures regarding human trafficking.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and the Mississippi State Department of Health are also partnering with USM on the free summit to be held from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the Joe Paul Theater. The session will include state and national business-oriented speakers who will discuss their efforts with implementing anti-human trafficking policies.
Dr. Tamara Hurst, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, and Dr. Kimberly Hogan, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work, serve as CHRT co-directors. Hurst describes the summit as a unique opportunity to highlight some of the state and local agencies involved in Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking efforts.
“We know that a lone agency will not be as effective as a multi-agency partnership,” said Hurst. “Success takes multiple perspectives and skill sets to address this complex issue. Connecting with our state agencies for this summit shows a united front and a willingness to work together.”
Added Secretary of State Michael Watson: “We are grateful to our partners at USM who have helped spearhead our inaugural MBAT Summit. Their expertise and passion have not only helped frame our agency’s efforts but will ultimately make Mississippi a safer place for all.”
Following the summit, a free screening of the film, “Sextortion: The Hidden Pandemic” (Maria Demeshkina Peek) will be held from 6 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. at the Joe Paul Theater. A panel discussion will follow. The film is an investigation into the world of online grooming and sextortion--a present-day reality for one in seven children online. By unsealing the federal case of a top-gun pilot with hundreds of victims, and interviewing survivors and their parents, this true-crime piece exposes an often-overlooked crime against children, the tactics of online predators, and the voices of parents and law enforcement poised to stop online child exploitation in its tracks.
“Few people are familiar with the term “sextortion” even though this illegal activity has been happening for quite some time,” said Hurst. “Youth from our middle and high schools and adults in our college communities know how common it is for people to exchange explicit photos online. They may not know the danger involved or how these exchanges can morph into extortion. The screening highlights how easily someone can be manipulated into complying with requests from online predators.”
USM officially unveiled the new center in September of 2022 with the purpose of charting a new course for Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking policies, legislation, protocols, and victim services. In October 2022 the center was awarded $497,000 for the first year of a five-year demonstration program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF).
Human trafficking is the exploitation of other humans, both youth and adults, of all genders for sex and/or labor. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, hundreds of cases are reported in Mississippi annually, but due to reporting limitations, researchers at USM believe the numbers are likely even higher than current data suggests.
Hurst notes that the response to the announcement of CHRT has been “gratifying and reinforcing.”
“There is so much work to do in Mississippi, and we are excited to take our place among other entities that contribute to the state’s anti-human trafficking movement,” said Hurst.
To learn more about the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training at USM, call 601.266.4163 or visit: www.usm.edu/chrt. Follow the center on social media through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @USMCHRT.