Miss Mississippi College Taylor Townsend is using her yearlong reign to increase awareness of the worldwide tragedy of human trafficking.
“There are millions of modern-day slaves in the world,” Townsend, an MC sophomore, says. “People may have heard of human trafficking, but many people don’t realize it’s not just a problem far away. It’s also going on right here in Mississippi. The first step toward ending this tragedy is making people aware that it’s happening.”
Human trafficking is the world’s second-most lucrative illegal business, second only to drug trafficking. Townsend has made it her mission to educate others on the scope of the problem and how to recognize and help rescue its victims.
Townsend has launched a website promoting the United Nation’s Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking (www.awaresharecare.org), and is working to localize the international campaign in Mississippi. Townsend speaks to civic, school, community, and church groups statewide on the topic; she was also a featured speaker at the spring 2012 Mississippi’s Prosecutors’ Conference. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood, and U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper have all endorsed Townsend’s campaign.
“It’s my goal to make the blue heart campaign against human trafficking as pronounced and recognizable to Missis- sippians as the pink ribbon is for breast cancer,” Townsend says.
Townsend has also taken her cause beyond state lines; in 2011, she was one of six women who led a national conference on human trafficking awareness at Disney World for more than 3,000 teenage attendees. She also made the issue her platform when she represented MC in the 2012 Miss Mississippi pageant.
The daughter of MC Vice President for Advancement Dr. Bill Townsend and his wife, Dr. Cindy Townsend, Taylor Townsend credits her parents for instilling in her a deep compassion for others.
“My parents have always told me they named me ‘Taylor’ because they believed I was ‘Taylor-made’ to make a significant impact in the world,” Townsend says. “Fighting human trafficking is part of my effort to live up to that challenge.”
Women and girls account for 80 percent of trafficking victims. The remaining 20 percent are children.
Sexual exploitation is involved in 80 percent of cases.
The United Nations’ Blue Heart Campaign estimates the total market value of illicit human trafficking worldwide at $32 billion.