SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Hundreds from across the ArkLaTex gathered in Shreveport Thursday for the South Central Human Trafficking Conference to learn new ways to help children.
The two-day conference hosted by the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana offered first responders and others training to stop and prevent trafficking and trauma.
Last year, according to the National Human Trafficking hotline, Louisiana had more than 100 reports of human trafficking.
Now some professionals like Laurie McGehee, probation manager of Caddo Juvenile Court, think it may take an army to combat trafficking.
"In Shreveport and Caddo parish, we had 74 confirmed victims just in our area," McGehee said. Among those 74 she noted that many were under the age of 12.
Research has shown several cases go unreported each year so McGehee believes it's just the tip of the iceberg.
As a result, Juvenile Services for Caddo Parish has worked to find solutions to problems before they arise. Officials said some of the cases that appear before the court are related to human trafficking.
"We are trying to find the underline problem," Clay Walker, Director of Juvenile Services for Caddo Parish said. " If they're victims of trafficking they may be causing trouble for law enforcement, but the underline problem is they are a victim."
Walker said the focus is learning more, ending it and prosecuting the adults.
He said it is imperative to understand the warning signs and report suspicious activities to the police. However, that has not always been easy to do.
The Executive Director of the Louisiana Governor's Children Cabinet said it's not always people you may assume.
"Human trafficking is not just among child victims who are in poverty, impacted by substance abuse or adults who are in prostitution or stripping, " Dr. Dana Hunter said.
Dr. Hunter said human trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere including online.
She said traffickers and perpetrators lure victims through social media and implores parents to be proactive and talk with their children.
"We as parents, we have a supervise our children," Hunter says. She also points out that "adults have the responsibility to be educated," which is the purpose of the conference.
Internetsafety101.org released ways to keep your children safe online:
• Look for at-risk warning signs (staying out later than usual, change in friends, withdrawing from activities, spending time with suspicious individuals, unexplained possessions/access to money)
• Consider using monitoring software
• Set internet time limits and guidelines
• Disallow your child's access to chat rooms
• Set up cybersecurity setting for your family.