Video: USM Gulf Park men sport high heels for awareness
Jacob Breland started out a little unsteady in his red high heels.
But by the time the University of Southern Mississippi assistant professor of management and international business walked across the stage, he was feeling more confident.
Breland, along with nine other USM faculty, staff and students, donned the heels for the inaugural Stallions in Stilettos event to increase awareness of human trafficking in Mississippi and raise money to fight trafficking and other forms of violence.
"I'm excited to help the students," Breland said. "Anything that demeans or marginalizes people is an important issue."
The event was hosted by the American Marketing Association and the Women's Gender Studies Student Organization at USM's Gulf Park campus.
Human trafficking, broadly defined as using force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjecting a person to involuntary servitude or forced labor or services, is thought to be the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world.
"Human trafficking is a living and real thing on the Coast," said Mary Maner, with the Women's and Gender Studies Student Organization. "We're bringing awareness to the issue."
According to the Polaris organization, there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally. Of those, 26 percent are children and 55 percent are women and girls.
The National Human Resource Center hotline received 21,947 calls in 2015 and had 5,544 human trafficking cases reported.
The top labor trafficking industries are domestic work, traveling sales crews and food service, according to the Center. Brothels with a commercial front and hotels or motels are among the top venues for sex trafficking.
In the lobby of the Fleming Education Center, participants picked out and tentatively tested out their shoes, before comparing notes on how to best roll up and cuff their pants to show off the footwear.
Brenden DeBrie, a sophomore and student government organization activities chair, was there with a friend. He wore bright sunset-themed socks under his black shoes.
"It's a really good cause," he said. "It brings awareness for trafficking, which his a big deal on the Coast."
They paraded across the stage in the auditorium -- some more smoothly than others but all with a touch of their own style -- then the audience was invited to give money to the participant of their choice with all cash eventually going to benefit anti-violence organizations. Breland won the contest.