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First responders attend training to target local human trafficking

Human trafficking happens all over the world, even in Lauderdale County. Tuesday, first responders attended a training to learn how to fight the problem.

“It’s a major problem. I’m not sure how big of an issue it is in Meridian, but I’m sure it exists in the surrounding county. It’s a lot bigger than what anybody thinks,” said Ricky Leister, deputy chief of the Meridian Fire Department.

According to statistics, 75 percent of victims and survivors of human trafficking say they encountered first responders during their exploitation but did not receive the help they needed.

“I don’t think it was because they didn’t want to help. I just don’t think they recognized the red flags. Because of that, the fire academy asked if I would create a training for this,” said Jody Dyess.

Held at the MCC Workforce Development Center, the training debunked misconceptions about the trade.

“It’s not the movie “Taken.” Everyone wants to make it what TV makes it look like. Actually, trafficking doesn’t have to do anything with people being transported or hauled around. There is a thing called smuggling,” said Dyess.

Dyess, who works with the advocacy groups Say Something and Free International, explained that human trafficking involves not only prostitution, but forced labor.

“Labor can be anything from people that think they’re getting valid immigration documents. They think they’re coming here legally, then all of a sudden, they’re being hooked into a situation where they have to work off a debt.”

He pointed out red flags that first responders can look for, especially in child victims.

“If kids have unexplained absences, if they can’t afford stuff and all of a sudden are owning things, if they have multiple hotel room keys, and if they are dressed in a certain way.”

The human trafficking training will continue Wednesday and Thursday with four workshops each day. Workshops are open to the public.

#MeridianFireDepartment #HumanTrafficking #FirstResponders #MeridianPoliceDepartment

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