March 2, 2015 (Jackson) - A report is being released today that examines the prevalence of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in the central Mississippi area. Students at Belhaven University collaborated with Beautiful Ones Ministries, Inc. and Shared Hope International to prepare the report. The study revealed that the children being trafficking in the counties assessed are Mississippi children, largely trafficked by their own family members. Poverty and education gaps prevalent in Mississippi make children in the area particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
Social work majors Rebekah Allen, Haley Crosby and Mary Ali Stewart worked with Beautiful Ones Ministries during their internships. Dr. Angela Gaddis, Chair and Associate Professor of the Social Work Department at Belhaven University, guided the senior level research students in accomplishing their semester goals.
The research on DMST used a Rapid Assessment methodology provided by Shared Hope that covered four counties - Hinds, Rankin, Madison and Warren - and evaluated the identification of DMST victims and access to services for victims in these counties.
The Belhaven students interviewed a total of 36 local professionals - from law enforcement, the judicial system, government agencies, nongovernmental service providers and the community - about DMST occurring in the target areas.
The individuals interviewed have identified a total of 90 DMST victims in recent years. Certainly, many more victims exist, as the study revealed that misidentification and under-identification of victims is a problem.
Gaps and challenges exist in the four counties assessed in regard to identifying and responding to DMST victims. The report concludes: Many victims of child trafficking slip through the cracks or are mislabeled as juvenile delinquents because of lack of awareness of the problem. For those victims who are identified, central Mississippi is not equipped to care for them. There are no shelters that serve the specific needs of DMST victims, which means they cannot be adequately protected. Victims often return to their traffickers because they are not receiving necessary services and there is a lack of coordination among agencies to monitor and support the victims.
A copy of the Rapid Assessment is available at www.beautifulones.net.
About Beautiful Ones Ministries, Inc.: Beautiful Ones is a Christ-centered 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to raise awareness about sex trafficking in our community, to identify and reach out to female adolescents who are currently involved in or at risk for being caught in the sex trade, and to provide safe housing to adolescent victims of sex trafficking.
About Shared Hope International: Shared Hope International is a leader in the worldwide effort to prevent and eradicate sex trafficking and slavery. Shared Hope believes that the key to effective response is being informed. Shared Hope invests in providing policy leaders, community advocates, and first responders with data-driven, comprehensive studies to create better solutions to fight trafficking.