A Brief Review of Human Trafficking in Mississippi Leisa S. McElreath and Ashley M. Lindsley
Human trafficking is a major issue globally, but one that appears very difficult to grasp and even more difficult to bring under control. Within the United States, as in many other nations, it is a multi-dimensional concern, socially, politically and economically (McElreath, et al., 2014). On the extremes, there are those nations from which large numbers of people depart, while on the other end of the spectrum, there are those nations a large number of people choose as an ultimate destination (Waldron, Quarles, McElreath, Waldron, & Milstein, 2009).
The volume of people trafficked annually is large, but sources have not agreed on the numbers involved. According to the Polaris Project, 20.9 million people are trafficked annually, of which they estimate fifty-five percent are women and girls (Polaris, 2018).
Deshpande’s research estimated the number trafficked to be approximately 800,000 people annually across international borders and, of these about 80% are women or girls (Deshpande, 2013). Rieger estimates between 700,000 and 2,000,000 are trafficked each year with 45,000 to 50,000 women and children trafficked into the United States (Rieger, 2007).
The Economics of Trafficking
It is an industry that is fueled by money. From an economic perspective, human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry (State, 2017) with profits reaching into the billions of dollars (Rieger, 2007). Globally, human trafficking is reported to be the third largest criminal enterprise following trafficking in drugs and firearms (State, 2017). While human trafficking has attracted much attention in recent years, within the United States, it is a crime that is often hidden from view and as a result difficult to identify (McElreath D. H., et al., 2014).
To exist, human trafficking relies upon secrecy (Panigabutra-Roberts, 2012). Victims, especially those who are undocumented, often fear both the traffickers and the authorities. The victims of trafficking frequently find difficulty in gaining help. Language barriers, lack of cultural understanding and threats of violence by the traffickers to themselves and their families deter victims from seeking assistance from justice authorities and social service providers. As a result, positive intervention, to include identification of trafficked victims by community members, social service providers or law enforcement personnel is often difficult making successful prosecution of the traffickers a challenge.
Though often hidden from view, human trafficking can occur in almost any community in the nation. While many factors serve as a stimuli for trafficking, economic despair, social upheaval, conflict or the desire for a better future, many of those trafficked find themselves drawn or forced into sexual or labor exploitation (State, 2017). Human trafficking is a crime that continues to destroy lives, not only directly as a result of sexual or labor exploitation, but also from damage, both physical and psychological, inflected on victims through violence, trauma, and disease and in some cases, substance usage and abuse (Gerassi, 2015).
Summary of Significant Legislative Response and Effort
Responding to the issue of human trafficking, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and reauthorized the legislation in 2005. The Act went into detail addressing the dynamics of human trafficking. The legislation also acknowledged laws on the local, state and federal levels which existed at the time were inadequate in providing law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to combat human trafficking. In response to the need for better legislation, the passage of this Act enhanced the penalties for traffickers while providing some social service resources to the victims (Rieger, 2007) (Gerassi, 2015). This Act also served as a catalyst inspiring States to strengthen their human trafficking related legislation (Gerassi, 2015).
Impact within Mississippi
While people of all ages, genders, races and sexual orientations may fall victim, undocumented females are extremely vulnerable. Mississippi is not immune from this crime. In Mississippi, as in other States, steps to combat human trafficking require an understanding of the scope of the problem and a multi-organizational effort to respond to the challenge. A 2006 report examining undocumented individuals residing in Mississippi estimated the number to be 49,000 (Bryant, 2006), Of those in the State who are undocumented, an unknown percentage have fallen victim to trafficking related labor or sexual exploitation.
In 2006, Mississippi criminalized trafficking of persons (Force, 2015). In 2013, the Mississippi legislature, following a national trend, enacted legislation further addressing the trafficking issue in the State. In 2015, Governor Bryant authorized the formation of a Human Trafficking Task Force to examine the issue and its impact upon the Mississippi. In 2015, the Task Force reported its finding, which highlighted trafficking of United States citizens into sexual exploitation, with little emphasis of the victimization of non-documented females (Force, 2015).
Though statistics as they relate to human trafficking in Mississippi, as for many other states, are at best incomplete (Gates, 2018), the trends in the trafficking of undocumented females in Mississippi appear to follow patterns similar to those found in other States. According to the Polaris organization that tracks trafficking from December 2007 to December 2016, approximately 2,950 cases of sex trafficking in the commercial massage and health and beauty service industry were reported through their hot-line services in the United States. Of those cases, less than 250 were attributed to Mississippi (Polaris, 2018) (Project, 2017). These numbers appear to be remarkably low.
Nationally, undocumented females are frequently found in the sex industry, to include massage parlors, adult clubs and escort services (Deshpande, 2013). Additionally, labor exploitation in domestic and personal services was also reported. In many states, including Mississippi, some occupations are much more inclined to employ undocumented workers. Agriculture, local business to include restaurants, lawn services, construction and the personal services industries to include beauty, massage, cosmetology and escort services are frequent employers of undocumented or illegal individuals.
Professional licensing agencies, such as Cosmetology Boards report concerns of untrained individuals fraudulently obtaining licenses allowing them to operate in the profession. The nail salon industry appears especially appealing as an area into which undocumented Asian females are employed. According to a 2015 New York Times report, there are more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States (Nir, 2015). These businesses often deal in cash, providing opportunities for additional criminal activity to include money laundering.
Response to the Challenge
Human trafficking is a social, political and moral issue. It has been described as a modern form of slavery (Capizzi, Cruz, & Carmona, 2016). In Mississippi, the extent of the problem of human trafficking of undocumented females is unclear and as a result, it will be very difficult for officials to craft effective policies to address this issue. Combating human trafficking in Mississippi, as in other States, requires a coordinated effort among a wide range of enforcement, regulatory, social and community groups (Kotrla & Wommack, 2011).
Gaps in Literature
The current literature pertaining to the trends in human trafficking in Mississippi is lacking. As of April 2018, few journal articles addressing trafficking of Asian females in Mississippi or the Southern States could be found. Much of the information found was produced by non-refereed publications such as newspapers, websites, blogs and State government documents. What has been found is quite limited. Tripp and McMahon-Howard examined trafficking in the Atlanta area, looking for a link between organized crime and trafficking, which was surprising considering the role organized crime plays in human trafficking on an international level (Tripp & McMahon-Howard, 2016). Williams, Wyatt and Gaddis conducted a limited study of 28 clients of a social services agency in Mississippi seeking to determine the number believed to have been at least once a tracking victim. While their study results suggest 54 percent of those surveyed had been victims of trafficking, no information was available to indicate if any of these individuals were Asian or undocumented. Additionally, they as researchers stated that no quantitative data could be located addressing the prevalence of sex trafficking in Mississippi (Williams, Wyatt, & Gaddis, 2018)
There is a significant gap in the information available on this topic. As a result, research should be conducted in this field to provide information to community and governmental officials allowing them to craft policies responding to this concern.
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