LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY)– Because January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month, First Lady Donna Edwards, the wife of Gov. John Bel Edwards, spoke about Human Trafficking at the Junior League of Lafayette General Membership Meeting at Acadiana Center for the Arts. 

To combat the high rates of human trafficking in the state, Louisiana now has its first Human Trafficking Prevention Resource Center and the Stop Trafficking LA: Human Trafficking is R.E.A.L. campaign spearheaded by First Lady Edwards.

“We understand the significance and value of bringing awareness to combating human trafficking, especially as a community that sits at the crossroads of two interstates that affect the boundaries of all of our country. Right in Lafayette,” said Mayor-President Josh Guillory when introducing the First Lady.

Every day, an American child is trafficked for sex. It happens from inside their schools, shopping malls, truck stops, clubs, and bars. Edwards said in the state, the average age of a young girl to be trafficked is 13 years old. Even boys are targets. 

“I recently heard a juvenile judge say these predators, these pimps, these traffickers. They feed these children when they’re hungry and clothe them in fine clothing. They provide a place for them, and these children are starving for all those things, including love, and that’s scary; it is,” said Edwards.

According to First Lady Edwards, human trafficking is replacing drugs as the number one illegal source of money, bumping drugs to number two, and firearms to third place.

“A drug can be used once, but a person can be used over and over again. That’s hard. That’s hard to think about. That’s what drives the criminal industry forward is the unlimited cash flow,” she said.

Facts captured by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Human Trafficking found 759 reported individuals were trafficked in the state of Louisiana in 2021. While 530 children 17 and under were reportedly trafficked in the state of Louisiana in 2021.

According to Edwards, people in poverty are more likely to be victimized because they have fewer opportunities and resources to defend and protect themselves from predators.

While some people may wonder, why don’t the victims just run away? It is not that simple. It is through several tactics traffickers would make the victims believe through mind control that they are loved. Edwards urges all caregivers to warn children about the dangers of being groomed into believing a trafficker cares for them.

If you or someone else is in danger of a human trafficker, call 911 or the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.