Mississippi university forms research center on human trafficking in state
Published 6:09 am Sunday, September 25, 2022
Mississippi’s new Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training at the University of Southern Mississippi is the first center of its kind in the state.
Earlier this summer, the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) approved a proposal from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Social Work to form the new center.
Pronounced “chart,” the center’s purpose is to chart a new course for Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking policies, legislation, protocols and victim services.
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.
“There is a general lack of knowledge regarding the scope and complexity of human trafficking occurring in Mississippi, and we believe this can be drastically improved,” said Dr. Tamara Hurst, co-director of CHRT and associate professor in the USM School of Social Work. “We are encouraged that the IHL Board of Trustees gave our CHRT proposal a vote of confidence alongside the support of our University president, provost, dean and school director. We know there is a lot of work ahead of us, and we are eager to begin.”
CHRT will be an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers, trafficking survivors and students who participate in the collection, analysis and evaluation of human trafficking data from Mississippi’s state and local agencies. By working to develop a screening and assessment tool for statewide use, the CHRT team will help streamline data collection and management to prevent the spread of misinformation and inaccurate data. Their findings will inform evidence-based education and trainings for agency personnel with a goal of accelerating the development of Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking efforts.
The groundwork to address human trafficking in Mississippi began in 2015 with Governor Phil Bryant’s Human Trafficking Task Force, on which Dr. Hurst was appointed to serve. In 2019, the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council, housed within the Department of Public Safety and in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Health, was federally funded to engage law enforcement in multidisciplinary efforts addressing trafficking across the state.
An active participant in these conversations and efforts, Dr. Hurst was appointed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Mississippi to chair a Strategic Planning and Trafficking Protocol Subcommittee for the Council.
As she worked with various organizations in Mississippi, Dr. Hurst realized that an effective solution to the state’s human-trafficking problem would need to be firmly grounded in subject matter expertise and research to succeed. She envisioned an academic center that could meet those needs and connect experts from across the nation to learn what is and is not working.
Spearheading this new approach from an academic angle would be quite an undertaking, so Dr. Kimberly Hogan was a welcome addition to the state in 2021. Dr. Hogan joined the USM School of Social Work faculty with fresh ideas and a vast network of connections.
“While working for the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research for six years, I conducted research studies in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada,” said Dr. Hogan, assistant professor and co-director of CHRT. “After completing my Ph.D., I was searching for a faculty position in a state in need of my expertise in human trafficking. That’s when I discovered Southern Miss!”
Dr. Hogan is a single subject matter expert consultant for the United States Department of Justice. Her research spans the prevention, detection, identification and treatment of minor and adult sex trafficking victims. She has also served as a social worker for StreetLightUSA, one of the largest homes in America for girls who have been victims of sex trafficking, and worked as the clinical assistant director at Phoenix Starfish Place, which houses mothers and children with human-trafficking lived experiences.
“Dr. Hogan has a unique combination of academic and research expertise,” said Dr. Hurst. “Of particular importance are her professional relationships with national and global experts in the field of human trafficking. She’s an incredible addition to our team and will be able to help activate stakeholders who are critical to moving our work forward in Mississippi.”
With 23 years of combined experience in the field, Dr. Hurst and Dr. Hogan have designed CHRT to serve as an umbrella organization that can support Mississippi’s anti-trafficking efforts. They recognize the need for both empirically-sound research and evidence-based training in the state and are committed to advancing knowledge and services through the new center.
To learn more about the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training, visit usm.edu/chrt.