If there was a problem going on in your own backyard, you’d want to know about it, correct? What if it was something you did not see everyday, or you are not even a part of? It may surprise some of you, but Louisiana has a human trafficking problem – and it is a problem that is continuing to grow. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), the National Human Trafficking Resource Center had received more than 200 calls in Louisiana, and 100 arrests were made that dealt with Human Trafficking in various degrees.
In order to combat this, students from LSU organized Tigers Against Trafficking. They have already made awareness to trafficking on the state level, thanks in part to their bill SB172, which seeks to end child marriage in Louisiana. DIG recently sat with Tigers Against Trafficking’s, current president, Senior Marissa Bosley to learn more about the organization and the work they have set out to accomplish.
Can you give us a little background on Tigers Against Trafficking?
We are a student run organization from LSU whose main mission is to fight human trafficking locally and to bring awareness to it at an international level. It started back in 2008 by Natalie Laborde after her experiences studying abroad and witnessing human trafficking, before she attended law school. She also discovered the A21 campaign, which is an international anti-trafficking organization that started around the same time. When they first started they were low on funds, so when Natalie came back she started working on doing a 5k fundraiser for the A21 campaign and that’s where Tigers Against Trafficking came from. Originally it was just a fundraiser, but eventually it had to have a name due to LSU’s policies and it just grew.
The organization actually disbanded in 2016, because the officers graduated from LSU at the time. I contacted the last president, and with a couple of friends and students we started again in 2018, so we really are starting back from the ground up.
What was it that got you interested in getting involved and starting it back up?
When I was in middle school my dad went to India for a business trip. While he was there, he saw the large homeless population that included children. Labor and sex trafficking occurs at high rates in India as well. At the time I didn’t quite understand what was occurring, but what my dad was describing to me was human trafficking. From there I realized this was something that I wanted to get involved with when I got older so I began to do research on the subject. Several years later I was on Tigerlink and found Tigers Against Trafficking and it’s lead me to here!
TAT has been pushing for the bill SB172 in the Louisiana Senate. Supported by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, the bill aims to end child marriage in Louisiana and raise the minimum age of marriage to 18. When talking to people about this bill, there seems to be confusion in that people really can’t believe child marriage is even legal.
We get that a lot. The thing is, is that there are kids as young as 12 and 14 years old who are getting married with parent signature and court approval. There have been some statistics that look deeper into this in Louisiana, but unfortunately not so much recently. Between 2000 and 2010, we know that there were kids as young as 12 who were married, and we know that more than 80 percent of those marriages were between a minor and an older male adult. That kind of gives you the idea of who we are dealing with. But when it comes to trafficking, child marriages and forced marriages are considered a form of trafficking. This is because it is a forced service, meaning the child did not want to be a part of the marriage. They can’t opt out since it isn’t in their jurisdiction; its in their parents or the court if they are under 16.
Trafficking seems like an issue that isn’t really discussed because of how secretive it is. Across Baton Rouge, there are billboards showing statistics that we too have a growing trafficking problem – not just here, but all across Louisiana. How do you explain to people that this is a serious issue that is currently happening?
You have to look at human trafficking as being similar to drug trafficking in terms of how it goes under the radar. Just like you may know someone personally who has either purchased or has distributed drugs, you may have met someone who is involved in trafficking.
What’s the cause for the high trafficking in Louisiana?
Studies have shown that it could be caused by two reasons. New Orleans being such a big city and its ports is a factor. The 1-10 12 Split also makes it easier to traffic across. So New Orleans to Houston is a huge area that they use. These routes are also used for drug trafficking so once again you can see the correlation between the two.
Are there solutions that can be put into place in order to combat this?
Especially for Baton Rouge, I think we need more training for our police force, nurses in ERs, and hotel staff. These are the three groups that are most likely to run into a victim of trafficking. Just general overall awareness and training is the best solution. We also need to make sure people know what to look out for and what to do about it. A lot of times people say, “I see the situation, I should engage and be the hero”, but it’s actually not the safest thing to do for the victim and the person trying to get involved. The safest thing to do is call The Human Trafficking Hotline if you see anything you find suspicious or think is human trafficking. They will help you make sure what you are witnessing is in fact trafficking, get in contact with the police, or get someone who is trained to come and rescue them
As far as making sure if everyone is really aware of what is going on, New Orleans has the New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force and they are connected with anti trafficking organizations and safe houses for victims. The biggest thing about them is they are also involved with law enforcement and train them to handle trafficking situations. Their coordinator, Leanne McCallum even came to LSU to give Tigers Against Trafficking their own training! More of that across the board not just in Louisiana, but across the country as well, will do a lot of good.
Are there any other projects, Tigers Against Trafficking are getting involved in?
Other than pushing the bill we are really trying to do more volunteer work with the safe houses. Right now we are planning a date to give extra curricular art classes to the girls at the Metanoia Manor. It kind of gives them an outlet to take back to the safe house and be able to do on their own. We really want to do more work with safe houses and make sure that the organization still goes strong at LSU when Sarah Thibodeaux becomes president! In this way, we are looking for more students to be active in the club, and donations for safe houses. Anyone interested can contact us to be more involved or help us with bill SB172.