Victims of human trafficking found on the Mississippi Coast usually have no safe place to go and, if they do, no money to get there.
Hadassah Ministries wants to change that by building the state’s first safe haven for the victims, whether they were held captive for prostitution or forced into labor through human smuggling or indentured servitude.
Hadassah will host a Princess Tea in St. Martin on Saturday as a fundraiser and to promote public awareness of human trafficking.
“Just because people think human trafficking is not happening here, it is,” Hadassah executive director Sharon Robbins said. “And the more people think it doesn’t happen, the more it happens under the wire.”
Money raised at the Princess Tea will go toward funding Hadassah Haven. The group wants to build or receive a donated building and land to temporarily house eight to 10 victims and assess and address their needs. The group also aims to get a building for long-term stays and to offer a 12- to 24-month job-training program.
“There have been times we have driven victims five to 10 hours away because there is no safe haven for them in Mississippi,” Robbins said.
The Princess Tea
Saturday’s fundraiser will be at the St. Martin Community Center, 15008 Lemoyne Blvd., from 2 to 5 p.m. Tea and desserts will be served, and children 10 and younger will be taken to a separate room for story time while others hear frank talk about human trafficking.
Tea will be served in donated cups. Members of the Cedar Lake Church Vintage Youth group and the Vancleave Civitan Club will be servers.
Teenagers in particular need to hear of the dangers and the resources, Robbins said.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children. Sponsors can buy a table of 10 for five adults and five children for $250. A table for 10 adults is $300. Tickets for sponsors’ tables can be picked up at a will-call area.
An auction also is planned.
Local problem also
Human trafficking is considered the third-largest criminal activity in the world, according to the FBI.
Several human trafficking arrests, including human smuggling, have been made along the Interstate 10 corridor across South Mississippi in the past few years.
Human trafficking exists on city streets, among high school students and parents and in some businesses, Robbins said. For instance, the manager of a St. Martin massage parlor was sent to prison in September. She admitted she enslaved women from other countries to have sex for money.
Also, a group of immigrants in June won judgments of more than $1 million from a company that brought them to work in Biloxi and other cities. The immigrants claimed they were forced to live in deplorable housing, worked for less than minimum wage and their families were told they had to pay for their visas after the fact.
Hadassah Ministries is working with a national organization; partners in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida; and different ministries and has determined the budget it needs to accomplish its goals, Robbins said.
A street ministry is another focus of Hadassah Ministries to rescue sex slaves and to free prostitutes from their pimps.
“Those girls on the street don’t trust anybody,” Robbins said. “You have to befriend them first.”