Michael Watson at a candidates' forum sponsored by MSU's Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Press Corps in October 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Secretary of State Michael Watson announced Wednesday morning a statewide partnership with Mississippi businesses to combat human trafficking.

Through the Mississippi Businesses Against Trafficking initiative, a website will be produced by the Secretary of State’s Office and videos and other training devices will be made available to help businesses recognize and report instances of human trafficking. Watson said the initiative made sense since businesses in the state must register with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Citing statistics from the Department of Health, Watson said a case of human trafficking is reported every other day in Mississippi. And there are almost 25 million instances of human trafficking “at and given time” worldwide.

“Sadly, human trafficking is more common in our state than people realize,” Watson said. “I personally know victims and met with several during my time in the state Legislature. Our goal is to rescue victims and ensure all Mississippians are safe from this heinous crime.”

Legislation has been passed in recent years to deal with human trafficking in the state and to put in measures to try to protect victims of human trafficking. Watson said his initiative, in partnership with businesses, is patterned after programs in other states.

“Through partnership and collaboration with other secretaries of state, we researched how to utilize our current role with the business sector to educate and raise awareness through grassroots efforts,” Watson said in a news release. “All Mississippi business owners are invited to join our fight to combat human trafficking in our state.”

Representatives of the hotel association and massage therapists joined Watson at Wednesday’s news conference as did an officer with the Dutch Group that owns Sprint Mart convenience stores. The massage therapists, convenience stores and hotels/motels are all industries where human trafficking might be more prevalent.

“Sprint Mart is proud to partner with MBAT because we recognize the critical role convenience stores and travel centers can play in the identification and reporting of suspected human trafficking,” said Matt Bogue, vice president of the Dutch Group.

The Mississippi Braves minor league baseball team is partnering with the Secretary of State’s office, and team representatives were involved in Wednesday’s news conference.

Businesses can learn more about the initiative at sos.ms.gov/MBAT.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.