This year, the Center for Violence Prevention gave Speaker of the House Philip Gunn the Angel Award. The Center fights daily against human trafficking in the state by providing assistance to the victims.
Each year, since 2011,The Center presents the Angel Award to the person or persons who have gone above and beyond to meet the primary goals of the agency: victim safety, offender accountability; and public awareness. This year’s recipient is Speaker Philip Gunn due to his trailblazing work on behalf of victims of human trafficking.
“Our agency is grateful beyond measure for Speaker Gunn’s commitment to this issue. He has assumed the lead in our state to ensure that Mississippi’s laws are strong. His efforts began with his 2018 Human Trafficking Summit with the goal of examining our laws for needed improvements, and it continues today with his leadership on addressing the practices and policies supporting the laws,” said Executive Director for The Center, Sandy Middleton. She has lead The Center since 2004.
Middleton said the Speaker was diligent in forming a working relationship with Shared Hope International who provided a policy expert to help with the policy effort. She said that move has allowed them to do some great work in regards to legislation, like last years HB 571, which she said launched Mississippi to the “front of the classroom.”
“This is indeed a high honor for me,” said Gunn. “I don’t know that I’m very deserving of this award. All I did was get a passion and a desire to do something about this problem and I brought that vision and that passion back to the Legislature.”
He said nothing happens in the Capitol without the help of others.
“This is a team effort,” said Gunn. “I cannot let the moment pass without acknowledging the help of my staff in putting this together. More than that it was a team effort by the Legislature. I could not make it happen without their help.”
HB 571 passed last year primarily made it illegal for an individual under the age of 18 to be charged with prostitution, instead recognizing the impact of human trafficking for those children. It also moved the office of Human Trafficking Coordinator from the Attorney General’s office to the Department of Public Safety.
“Today we now have the most comprehensive, thorough, human trafficking bill in the country,” said Gunn.
Present at the announcement were members of Mississippi’s five operational task forces, a group Middleton called “the boots on the ground.” These task forces, which are all on a volunteer basis, work operations to find and arrest perpetrators. Also, were the agencies Rapid Response advocates, staff, Board of Directors and Advisory Board members.
Middleton explained that The Center has been working with human trafficking victims for roughly a decade. Due to studies from across the country, they have found that a common thing used is a relationship between law enforcement and victims services.
“In order for this to work we must expect each others roles in the process,” said Middleton. She showed a video to those present that showed the stories of women who escaped human trafficking. Due to the nature of the videos and respecting the privacy of those involved, the video was not released to the media.