Wednesday at the Center for Violence Prevention Speaker of the House Philip Gunn announced Mississippi had received an A “grade” from Shared Hope International, an organization that aims to end human trafficking by preventing the environments that spur trafficking and provide support for victims.

Also in attendance were Executive Director of the Center for Violence Prevention, Sandy Middleton, local legislators, law enforcement officials, representatives from The Center’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board, advocates from The Center for Violence Prevention and community supporters.

“Last year, our state had a grade of “B” on our legislative report card, and it was our intent during last year’s session to improve that grade.  We all know that it takes strong laws to begin to address this horrific crime, and we’ll continue to make improvements with support services for all involved in this effort,” stated Speaker Philip Gunn.

Each year report cards are released for every state and the District of Columbia by Shared Hope to provide the state a grade and brief discussion on how their laws correlate with the organizations Protected Innocence Challenge. The analysis and Recommendations reports are written for each state and updated annually to bring in legislative changes.

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“Our agency is grateful for the partnership we have with Shared Hope.  They are the national experts on child sex trafficking, and their policy and legislative support has been key to our success on addressing the gaps in our laws.  Clearly, good policy has to be followed by sound practice, and we’re moving forward on that,” said Sandy Middleton, Director for the Center for Violence Prevention.

During the 2019 Legislative Session, legislation was passed to improve the state’s laws regarding how victims of trafficking are treated through the recovery process and ensure that law enforcement are properly trained in how to handle these cases.

One large component of the legislation would make it illegal to charge an individual under the age of 18 with prostitution. It also moved the state director position from the Attorney General’s office to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

HB571 was signed into law by Governor Bryant on March 28.

“We will stop arresting the victim. A young lady can be 16 years old and charged with prostitution is obviously a victim of trafficking,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “This will save lives and have a dramatic affect on so many children and young adults.”

This legislation was hailed by Shared hope to other states as an example of what positive legislation should look like.

“This is an issue that hits home to all of us,” said Gunn. “It’s not just in the Jackson area its all around the state, it’s in your home town and every one of us needs to come together to fight this issue.”