Each year, since 2011, The Center presents this award to the person or group who has gone above and beyond to meet the primary goals of our agency: victim safety, offender accountability; and public awareness. This year’s recipient is Desoto County Sheriff’s Department Special Investigations Division (SID) due to their committed work on behalf of victims of human trafficking. The SID has taken a leadership role in combatting human trafficking by equipping themselves with the necessary education, tools and certification to do this work. Desoto SO has 12 certified investigators and has helped 13 adult victims since August of 2022. In addition, they work with other local, state and federal agencies to help recover adult and minor victims throughout Mississippi. At the ceremony, Executive Director Middleton will be joined by Sheriff Rasco to highlight their achievements.
“Our agency is grateful to Sheriff Rasco, the SID team and the entire department for their continued commitment to the issue of human trafficking. This team has vigorously pursued those offenders who are exploiting the men, women and children in this area of our state. Many times elected officials stray away from this work because they don’t want citizens or outsiders to think this crime is happening in their area, but Sheriff Rasco and his SID have gone to great lengths to recognize the problem and energetically fight it. Further, it has been an honor for our staff of advocates to work along beside them in these efforts,” said Middleton.
“We are thankful, honored, and humbled to receive the Angel Award from the Center for Violence Prevention. Our Special Investigations Division has worked tirelessly and diligently to prevent human trafficking and protect victims. The work we do has a lifelong effect on victims and all of us at the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department are passionate about supporting these victims and bringing predators to justice,” said DeSoto County Sheriff, Bill Rasco.
The Center for Violence Prevention has effectively provided emergency shelter and supportive services to victims of interpersonal violence in central Mississippi since 1990. Originally focusing on victims of domestic violence, The Center developed trauma-informed practices and a client-centered approach to meeting the emergency and recovery needs of victims. Over the last decade, the service focus has continuously evolved to address gaps in services including victims of sexual assault and victims of human trafficking.
In September of 2017, The Center opened the state’s first and only specialized, long-term human trafficking shelter, named the Tower. The Center is also a member of five human trafficking task forces across the state, providing advocates to aid law enforcement with emergency functions and services to victims. Those victims have access to all services offered by The Center.
In 2021, The Tower housed nineteen (19) victims including one (1) dependent and one (1) minor placed in the program at her request and a Youth Court Judge’s order. CVP’s emergency shelter housed eleven (11) victims. The Tower’s Outreach (non-sheltered) Program assisted 105 victims including thirty-five (35) minors, six (6) males, and nine (9) labor trafficking victims. Rapid Responders responded, assisted, and screened 188 suspected victims in 2021. Ten (10) foreign national victims of sex, labor, or sex and labor trafficking were also assisted, which were both adults and minors, and identified their countries of origin as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and South Korea.
Since 2017, Mississippi has experienced a steep increase in identified victims, due in large part to CVP’s coordinated efforts and policy advocacy. Rapid Response Advocates have assisted more than 522 suspected victims; more than 260 victims received outreach support services; seventy-three (73) victims were housed at The Tower; and sixty-one (61) victims were assisted in the emergency shelter.
House Bill 1559 mandated a coordinated response facilitated by Certified Human Trafficking Investigators, Certified Human Trafficking Advocates, and Child Protective Services. This Rapid Assessment Team has yielded tips on more than 644 children since 2020, each fielded by the Tower’s team of rapid response advocates. The National Human Trafficking Hotline has also documented this increase noting seventy-two (72) tips in 2017 when the Tower opened; 227 tips in 2018 when the Rapid Response Team began its efforts; 246 tips in 2019; and 710 “substantive signals” in 2020.
For more information, follow us on FaceBook at The Center for Violence Prevention, or Twitter and Instagram @msc4vp, and our website at www.mscvp.org