CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - After an astounding report was published by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services on a sizable increase in child sex trafficking in the state, a northwest Louisiana organization wants to make sure you can help stop the growing problem.
"It's right in front of our faces, we just don't know it's there," said Alex Person, a forensic interviewer with the Gingerbread House, a non-profit child advocacy group in Shreveport.
Person said the following could be signs a child is being sold for sex:
- Frequently truancy and tardiness
- Falling asleep in school
- Children with excess money
- Children with tattoos or have hair and make-up done
- Expensive clothing and accessories
Person said a single call can help authorities identify children who might be being abused.
"Even if you don't know if the child is being trafficked or even abused, call law enforcement," said Person. "You only have to suspect there's any type of trafficking or abuse."
The Gingerbread house said it is seeing an increase in the number of child sex trafficking victims, especially in a younger age group.
"The youngest that we had this past year was 2-years-old," said Jessica Miller, executive director of the Gingerbread House. "We also had a 6-year-old."
Miller said the average age of the victims they work with are between 10 and 12. She said the parents of the victims are often responsible for selling their kids for sex.
"A lot of these parents that are allowing this to go on are involved in drugs," said Miller. "Once they exploit every avenue they have to pay for drugs, their next commodity is their children."
Miller said children are being traded for sex, often to pay rent.
"We have victims who tell us. 'Well, my mom knew what was happening, but this is just how we survive and pay rent.'"
To further educate young people on child sex trafficking in Caddo Parish, the organization has now started working with a program called Love 146.
"It's a five-week program for youth ages 12 to 18...and it teaches youth about those vulnerabilities," said Person. "It equips them with the skills to get out of a bad relationship or what to do is a trafficker does approach them; it really digs deep."
According to the report, Louisiana identified a 77 percent increase in child sex trafficking from 2016, much of which occurs in Caddo Parish. Of the almost 700 adults and children identified in the report, over 350 were children.
DCFS said it knows of 60 human trafficking agencies in the state, but only 24 reported information compiled in the report - which could mean the problem is actually much worse than previously thought.