Susie Harvill, CEO of Advocates for Freedom in Gulfport, Mississippi said the organization has rescued 105 victims in the state since it began in January 2011 and most of those have been on the Coast. The youngest was 3 years old and the oldest was 64.
“One in five girls and one in 10 boys are abused every day,” Harvill said. “Over two-thirds of all children that go missing are never reported.” Pascagoula Police Chief Kenny Johnson said he used to see human trafficking as a problem only in third-world countries. “The very real part of [human trafficking] is it happens to children and young girls and it happens right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Pascagoula Police Chief Kenny Johnson said.
In order to raise awareness, Harvill said, Advocates for Freedom gave presentations at city council meetings across the Coast in January. It has also developed a curriculum for law enforcement and for students.
Harvill said many end up victims because of traumatic experiences as a child. “If a child is violated at 5 years old, they believe it’s normal and OK,” she said. Advocates for Freedom tries to get children out of abusive situations. They help the victims seek counseling and Department of Human Services helps place children in new homes.
“I only pray that people who take in the children who have been trafficked know what they’re getting,” Harvill said. “It’s hard for a child to learn what is normal.”
Learn more at Christina Steube’s Sun Herald article: Gulfport group helps human trafficking victims, promotes awareness.