Bill to fight human and sex trafficking advances in the legislature

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 7:50 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Legislation to help the state fight human and sex trafficking advanced in the legislature on Wednesday.

And advocates for trafficking victims applaud efforts to reduce trafficking and help victims.

Young people living on the streets are often targets of cunning predators involved in trafficking.

Rheneisha Robertson, is executive director of Covenant House in New Orleans which provides shelter and other services for youths in distress.

“We provide services to survivors of human trafficking,” said Robertson.

Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking according to the CDC and Covenant House staffers see the toll of it firsthand.

“We see young people here who are survivors of human trafficking, often fall prey to perpetrators that really prey upon their ability to entice or manipulate young people who are often in positions where they’re making day-to-day decisions about where they lay their head at night, whether they will have food,” said Robertson.

At the state capitol, SB 170 advanced out to the full Senate for a vote. The bill creates the state’s first-ever Office of Human Trafficking Prevention. The new office would be located inside the governor’s office.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles is the sponsor of the bill. He spoke about the need to fight trafficking before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee which heard his bill. “And a lot of these are babies. These are young people who just, they just, anyway it’s just hard for me to explain how horrible it is,” said Johns.

Tom Costanza, Executive Director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops also spoke in support of the legislation. “This bill certainly looks at and improves the services to victims. It also fulfills our mission to help the poor and vulnerable. The Catholic church certainly is behind the bill,” he said.

Robertson said there are long-term consequences of being a victim of trafficking.

“Severe trauma. These are young people who have been coerced into, in particular, what we often see with sex trafficking in a very young, adolescent population,” Robertson stated.

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies that investigate human and related sexual offenses would be required to submit an annual report on their investigations, outcomes of the probes, and services they offered to victims.

Also, health care, housing, education, childcare, legal and other services for victims would be coordinated.

Some legislators from the New Orleans area were asked about the fight against sex trafficking.

“We obviously need to do whatever we can to crack down on sex trafficking and that can occur in many different fields, so I look forward to reviewing that legislation,” said Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie.

Rep. Gary Carter is a Democrat from New Orleans.

“Sex trafficking is a serious problem and we have to address that problem head-on, absolutely,” he said.

Robertson said even though large events that are tourist-magnets are not currently being held in the city due to the COVID-19 pandemic, predators are still busy trying to snare victims.

“We see an uptick in some of those activities occurring via online activities, social media,” said Robertson. “And so there are still those opportunities for young people, in particular, to be trafficked or to be lured into sex trafficking.”

Kara Van de Carr, co-founder of Eden House, which helps women victims of sex trafficking says more coordination of services at the state level are needed. She said Eden House also supports Sen. Johns’ bill.

Sen. Johns thinks having a designated state office focused on human trafficking will result in the state receiving more federal and private grants.

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