Chief

New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson speaks during a community event about social media and child sex trafficking.

The dangers of child sex trafficking and how it can occur right in people’s neighborhoods were discussed during a community forum at New Albany High School last week.

The event included presentations from the New Albany Police Department, the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi.

Hollie Jeffery with the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi said she is always amazed at what people do not know about sex trafficking.

Human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, is the second largest industry in the world, Jeffery said. She wants people to know how to protect their children.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and big profits can be made. For instance, she said a piece of crack cocaine can only be sold once and then it is consumed. But she said a 14-year-old girl can be sold multiple times each day.

“Sex with kids sells,” Jeffery said.

Law enforcement realizes that, but parents do not, she said. Parents do not want to believe there are people in the world who will buy a 10-year-old girl for sex, she added.

Some people may not think their children are at risk because they live in a certain neighborhood or go to a certain church or wear certain types of clothes, Jeffery said. But that is wrong, she said.

Jeffery also said there is relatively low risk when it comes to trafficking human beings. Often the victims of sex trafficking are looked at as criminals themselves, Jeffery noted.

People who do not think like perpetrators are living in a bubble and pretending that bad things do not happen, she said.

“You’ve got to start thinking like a perpetrator,” she said.

Sex trafficking is when one person gets a benefit, such as drugs or money, from another person having sex or performing sexual acts on someone else, she said.

People do not have to be moved from city to city to be trafficked. They can be trafficked out of their own homes.

Sextortion can occur when someone blackmails another person with a nude picture.

Children across all economic classes can be potentially exploited or abused. Predators identify targets through social media or by going to events. They may look for victims by playing video games online or they may seek out children who are vulnerable and have no supervision.

Predators “groom” their victims by building relationships with them, she added.

“These predators use all forms of social media,” Jeffery said.

That essentially puts any child with access to a smartphone at risk.

New Albany High School Principal John Ferrell wants to make sure the community is informed about the technology that students have in their hands.

“We have a wonderful working relationship with our law enforcement,” Ferrell said.

New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson said some students do not understand the impact of sharing inappropriate pictures. Once those pictures are on the Internet, they cannot be taken back, he said.

Simply deleting something from a computer does not mean it is gone, said Brett Wicker, an investigator with the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement can get a search warrant or subpoena to see what computers have been used to search for, Wicker noted.

If a computer or phone is found with illegal material, law enforcement must take possession of it, he said.

 “It is a criminal piece of equipment,” Wicker said. “We have to have it analyzed; we have to have it searched.”

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