HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – Earlier this summer, the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) approved a proposal from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Social Work to form a Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training (CHRT).

The center’s purpose is to chart a new course for Mississippi’s anti-human trafficking policies, legislation, protocols and victim services.

Human trafficking is the exploitation of other humans, both youth and adults, of all genders for sex and/or labor. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, hundreds of cases are reported in Mississippi annually, but due to reporting limitations, researchers at USM believe the numbers are likely even higher than current data suggests.

“There is a general lack of knowledge regarding the scope and complexity of human trafficking occurring in Mississippi, and we believe this can be drastically improved,” said Dr. Tamara Hurst, co-director of CHRT and associate professor in the USM School of Social Work. “We are encouraged that the IHL Board of Trustees gave our CHRT proposal a vote of confidence alongside the support of our University president, provost, dean and school director. We know there is a lot of work ahead of us, and we are eager to begin.”

CHRT will be an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers, trafficking survivors and students who participate in the collection, analysis and evaluation of human trafficking data from Mississippi’s state and local agencies.