Human trafficking is a huge problem in Mississippi. These agencies are taking steps to save lives.

Published 10:29 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Social Work’s SOARing in Mississippi (Stop, Observe, Act and Respond) team is holding a SOAR for Communities training session at the University’s Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach August 15-17, 2023. This gathering will include personnel from anti-human trafficking service providers and others serving the state’s lower nine counties.

The session is coordinated through the school’s Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training (CHRT) with expert facilitators from the Office on Trafficking in Persons’ National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center (NHTTAC).

The goal of this three-day session is the creation of an action plan with concrete next steps for strengthening the identification of victims and implementing an efficient referral system. The action plan will utilize a public health approach combining input from various professions, including health, education, social services, criminal justice and the private sector. At its heart, SOAR training helps participants know the signs, observe risk factors, ask questions using trauma-sensitive language, and respond with appropriate resources in the human trafficking situations they may encounter. SOAR for Communities bridges these skills between service provider agencies and seeks to enhance agency responsiveness.

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Participants will include representatives from the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, Southern Christian Services, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Mississippi Department of Health Office Against Interpersonal Violence, Jubilee Havens, lived experience experts, subject matter experts from the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center, and others. Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, whose office created the Mississippi Businesses Against Trafficking initiative, will attend on the first day. The meeting represents the first time these providers have gathered for the purpose of identifying needs and system gaps and for the development of a continuum of care.

“We hope to create an interdisciplinary advisory board designed to sustain collaborative efforts,” said Dr. Tamara Hurst, associate professor of social work at USM and principal investigator of the SOARing in Mississippi program. “Eradicating labor and sex trafficking requires a concentrated effort among the social service, criminal justice and other agencies that assist victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

Rebecca Stewart, director of the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter, Inc. (DAFS) based in Hattiesburg and Laurel, will also attend.

“DAFS is proud to participate in this specialized training program aimed at equipping domestic violence shelters with the necessary skills to identify and assist trafficking victims,” Stewart said. “This comprehensive training will empower our staff to recognize the signs of human trafficking better and provide the appropriate support and resources to those in need. By attending this training, we are reaffirming our commitment to combating human trafficking and ensuring the safety and well-being of survivors within our community.”

USM’s SOARing in Mississippi program is one of two in the nation federally funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons to demonstrate the effectiveness of a public health approach in addressing labor and sex trafficking. The CHRT is an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers, trafficking survivors and students who participate in collecting, analyzing and evaluating human trafficking data from Mississippi’s state and local agencies.

Learn more at the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training. Learn more about the USM School of Social Work, which is housed in the College of Education and Human Sciences.