Clinton, Mississippi native Alli Mellon has been working in Cambodia as director of an organization called The Hard Places Community that seeks to help victims of human trafficking. Leaders of the organization were drawn to the country because of the age of children who are being exploited. On their first trip there, representatives verified that children as young as 5 were being sold on a regular basis for sex with grown men, and they soon began to work in one of the most notorious villages in the world where trafficking of very young children occurs.
“The fact that sex trafficking is a huge issue in our own country right now is a wake-up call for all Americans,” said Mellon. “I work in Cambodia, which might seem like a world away to some people. However, when you put an American name and an American face to the problem, it opens one’s eyes in a whole new way.”
Attorney General Jim Hood said Mississippi is not isolated from this problem.
Trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, simply because there is money to be made, he said. “While drugs or guns can be sold once, a person can be sold again and again,” Hood said. “Criminals in Mississippi are just as interested in making money as those in other parts of the world, and they are banking on the fact that nobody here is paying close attention.”
“One of the major barriers to gathering good statistics is the lack of awareness of this problem,” Hood said. “Many people believe ‘it can’t happen here.’ Also, trafficking is one of the most under-reported crimes. Its victims are often too frightened to report and also too dependent upon their traffickers.”
Law enforcement agencies, faith-based groups and organizations like Advocates for Freedom on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are striving to raise awareness. “From a law enforcement perspective, our office is working with state legislators to have measures introduced during the 2013 legislative session, which will tighten some of the current loopholes in Mississippi law and help truly identify when trafficking crimes are occurring,” Hood said. The proposed changes would also place emphasis on crimes committed against minors. Other important provisions include victim services after a rescue.
Mellon said she hopes more people will become aware of the evils of human trafficking, globally and locally.
“My sincere hope is that the public will not turn a blind eye to the plight of our children,” she said. “These are real kids with real feelings. They are just like yours and mine. They laugh, play, dream and hope in the midst of their pain. My biggest dream is that we won’t leave them there.”
Learn more at LaReeca Rucker’s Clinton News article: From overseas to Miss., Clinton native battles sex trafficking, one child at a time.