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Miss. officers learn to fight human trafficking


Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press



PEARL -- Mississippi law officers are learning how to more thoroughly investigate cases of human trafficking. 


About 80 state and local officers are at the Law Enforcement Training Academy for sessions that started Monday and end Wednesday. 


Heather Wagner, a special assistant state attorney general, said human trafficking is forced labor. It can involve people who are made to work under pressure and against their will in sex jobs in prostitution or pornography or in other fields such as manufacturing, farming, construction, janitorial services or restaurant work. 


"Much of it does involve some sort of coercion, some sort of force," Wagner said in an interview Monday at the training academy. 


Mississippi's homeland security director, Rusty Barnes, said human trafficking is not limited to big cities. He said small towns and rural areas can have problems, too. 


"It's one of those situations where we don't think we have a problem until we start learning more about it," Barnes said. 


Mississippi has had a law against human trafficking since 2006. Legislators strengthened it this year with House Bill 673, which became law July 1. Among other things, the law establishes a minimum sentence of five years for someone found guilty of trafficking a minor for a sex job, including production of explicit material. The previous law had a maximum penalty but no minimum; the maximum remains 30 years. 


Sandy Middleton is executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention, which serves 10 central Mississippi counties. She helped teach the law enforcement class Monday. She said many people mistakenly think human trafficking involves only international workers. She said victims also can be U.S. residents who are coerced to work. She said trafficking victims fear they'll face retribution if they leave the jobs they're forced to do. 


"It's modern-day slavery, is what it is," Middleton said.




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