By Claire Salinas
Louisiana is making major steps toward preventing human trafficking. Last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed four pieces of legislation into law that will help law enforcement officers to more easily identify human trafficking victims as well as serve harsher punishments to sex traffickers, and $250,000 has been added to the state budget for the development and implementation of a human trafficking training course.
Emily Morrow-Chenevert, communications director with Trafficking Hope and Hope House, explained that Louisiana is leading the way in preventing human trafficking largely because of the partnerships between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the FBI, Louisiana state legislators and Louisiana state police.
Morrow-Chenevert said that the money spent on the training courses will “help in a way that women and children are not going be seen as criminals, but as victims. Until recently, there was no way of knowing if they were a runaway or a prostitute. This law will help law enforcement to identify these women.”
A law written by Rep. Julie Stokes will allow district courts to designate a division for human trafficking courts, and requires these courts to emphasize training for judges on the issues, in order to better identify victims.
Morrow-Chenevert explained that training judges to ask the right questions is a key part to identifying human trafficking victims.
“Sometimes they don’t want to come out against their pimp or trafficker. Which is why we train people to ask things like, ‘What happens to you if you don’t show up to work?’ ‘Can you leave your job for more than 24 hours?’ Many victims are abused if they don’t show up to work. A family member or friend could be killed as a result of them not showing up.”
According to Morrow-Chenevert the main thing to focus on is who is getting the benefits from the transaction.
“Is she getting paid or is she being coerced by someone who is getting the benefits?”
Shutting Down Demand
A law written by Rep. Neil Abramson will implement harsher punishments on human traffickers and those purchasing sex. The law targets those purchasing sex by creating the crime of “unlawful purchase of commercial sexual activity.”
Morrow-Chenevert explained how making the punishment harsher will hopefully drive down the demand for services.
“In my opinion someone should be listed in the newspaper if they get arrested [for purchasing sex]. Most of these people have lives, families and upstanding businesses. The harsher we can be on the people purchasing it, the better. This way we can shut down demand because people don’t want to get caught. If you shut down demand you shut down the money side of it.”
A law written by Rep. Valerie Hodges aids in prevention by requiring the posting of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in outpatient abortion facilities.
Another law, written by Rep. Barry Ivey, adds to the rescue potential in abortion clinics by requiring the clinic to provide women with information on coerced abortions and human trafficking prior to undergoing an elective abortion.
Morrow-Chenevert explained, “They [the traffickers] see that person as an item they can sell and make money off of. If a woman services an average of 15-25 men per day, someone is going to get pregnant.”
Morrow-Chenevert believes that giving these women the hotline and access to information about what human trafficking will give hope to those who think there is none.
“There is a woman at Hope House who when she got there told us she didn’t realize there was anything out there like [the hotline], and she couldn’t believe that anything like this existed. If there’s a victim out there they might see that there are people out there trying to speak up for them.”
Several organizations were present at the June 9 signing of the law. Among those present was Christine Cain, founder of the A21 Campaign, which is an international organization working to fight human trafficking and raise awareness about its underground nature.
At the signing Gov. Jindal put casual sex purchasers and traffickers on notice.
“These crimes are happening at alarming rates in America, and the Louisiana State Police has seen rising numbers right here in our state,” Jindal said. “Criminals who engage in these human trafficking crimes deserve the harshest punishment that we can possibly give them. They should be given zero opportunity to ever harm anyone again.”