Strategies to address human trafficking sought by Louisiana commission
Published: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 8:40 PM
By Ed Anderson, The Times-Picayune
An 18-member commission charged with finding ways for the state to better treat young people forced into prostitution or pornography got down to work Thursday, trying to identify ways to help the youths report the crime and receive treatment.
The Human Trafficking Study Work Group, created by a resolution sponsored by Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, must make a report on comprehensive findings to Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers no later than Feb. 1.
Evelyn Jenkins, director of child welfare for the Department of Children and Family Services and acting chairwoman of the group, said the top priorities to be addressed include examining laws in other states and on the federal level dealing with the "behavioral health ... and psychological issues facing minors" who are victims of human trafficking.
She said that group will seek input from victims, their parents and health-care providers to enhance the state's ability to address the problem on various levels, such as counseling, rehabilitation, education and job-training, as well as making the young people feel more secure from sexual predators.
Katherine Green, a representative of the Baton Rouge federal court's human trafficking task force and designee of Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on the panel, said a major problem is that no one knows how many victims of youth sexual trafficking are in the nation now.
She said the best estimate is that since 2009, there are about 100 victims who have come forward in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans area. "Nobody really knows," Green said. "That could be just a small percentage. ... It is a very sad situation" because young women - the typical victim of sexual trafficking, are reluctant to come forward for fear of retribution against themselves or family members.
She said many don't want to report the activities because they are not aware they are being exploited. "Their pimps may treat them better than anyone has ever treated them in their lives" by showing them attention and giving them gifts, Green said.
"Mom and dad may be the ones doing it (forcing them into sex trafficking) for money for their cocaine habits."
Bobby Gaston, a member of the panel representing the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, said some of the victims of sexual trafficking "are as young as 12 to 14. ... People need to know what the problem is."
Judy Benitez, representing the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, said the statistics on human sexual trafficking in the state may not be reliable because "it is a relatively new crime. ... Some are throwaways, not runaways" who may never be seen again.
She said possibly 10 percent to 25 percent of the cases of trafficking are reported.
The state Legislature at its recent session made it a crime to aid or be involved with a scheme to traffic anyone under the age of 18.
The penalties call for a fine of up to $50,000, 15 to 50 years in jail or both. If the victim is under 14, the penalties are a maximum fine of $75,000 and a jail sentence of 25 to 50 years. The law was sponsored by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans.