LAFAYETTE, LA (KADN) — You might think human trafficking only happens in other countries, but it's happening here in the United States and right here in Louisiana.
"Human trafficking is happening in your subdivision, my subdivision, in apartment complexes and everybody is unaware of it." State Representative Valerie Hodges said.
The numbers are staggering.
"27 million people are currently enslaved,” Natalie LaBorde, co-founder of Tigers Against Trafficking, said. “90 percent of those are women and children in the form of sex slavery. It took me by surprise, because I was very taken back by the scenario in thinking 'How can this exist now in the 21st century?'"
Representative Hodges notes that children are often the target of this illegal industry.
"I think the average age for people that get involved in the sex trafficking part is, for girls 12 to 13, and for boys I think it’s 11 to 12. They’re a very easy target,” she said. “Unfortunately, with the Internet, with the enticements that people can give, we just need to be aware that they’re targeting children."
A recent case out of Lafayette resulted in the arrest of Katherine Vidrine, 37, of Lafayette. She’s accused of forcing a 12-year-old girl to perform sexual acts in exchange for money. Officials believe the incidents took place at several locations throughout the parish.
"The drug trade – you sell drugs one time, there’s your profit – with human trafficking, the victims are sold multiple times, so the profit is huge,” Laura Domingue, co-founder of Trafficking Hope, said. “Human trafficking is now number two right under drug dealing and now it’s above armed sales."
Although sexual acts common, it is not exclusive to the crime of human trafficking.
"It is important to understand that human trafficking doesn’t just mean sexual exploitation or prostitution and sex acts. It’s also forced labor,” Jessica Starns, Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said. “Human Trafficking is anything where a person is forced or deceived into doing an act and they’re not free to leave and they’re not getting the compensation from their act, but their trafficker is the one benefiting and profiting from their services or their activities."
Believe it or not, one of the biggest human trafficking events is the Super Bowl. And, this past year, when the Super Bowl was in New Orleans, police arrested 80 people, all accused of forcing people into slavery in the days before the Super Bowl.
Representative Hodges has partnered with Senator Broom to produce a ‘Safe Harbor Bill’ – this protects anyone who calls the Human Trafficking hotline. This bill provides a place for the victims to stay and ensures that all charges will be dropped against victims.
For more information on human trafficking information and statistics in Louisiana, visit www.TraffickingHope.org.