(KLFY) — The month of January is observed as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and today, January 11, is recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The purpose is to bring attention and opposition to human trafficking, widely referred to as modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide, including in Louisiana.

In June of 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed SB170 into law, creating the new Office of Human Trafficking Prevention within the Governor’s Office of Programs and Planning. The office is Louisiana’s first entity solely dedicated to addressing and preventing human trafficking. Dr. Dana Hunter, an LSU professor of Social Work, is the executive director.

We want to build a statewide network of providers trained in trauma-informed victim-centered service delivery. I believe wholeheartedly that Louisiana will be a model for the world. Victims will obtain healing and justice, and children and adults will become more aware and less vulnerable to traffickers. The new Office of Human Trafficking stands ready to be a beacon light in the state for these victims and to create a strong network of agencies and supporters.

Dr. Dana Hunter

If you or your agency want to get involved with efforts to fight human trafficking in your region, Dr. Hunter can be reached at dana.hunter@la.gov.

In November, Gov. Edwards’ office announced that Louisiana was awarded a $1.5 million federal grant by the United States Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime that will be used to improve outcomes for child and youth victims of human trafficking.

The grant is a multi-year award that will be administered by the Office of Human Trafficking Prevention and will help fund the Louisiana Child and Youth Trafficking Collaborative Accessibility Initiative. This is the second time Louisiana has been selected for the award.

Human trafficking can result in sexual assault or abuse. Hearts of Hope is a Lafayette nonprofit with a mission of ending sexual violence. It’s the only sexual trauma center in Acadiana, and it oversees all sexual assault reporting and case management for children and adult victims in the community, according to its website.

Its services include the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), Sexual Assault Response Center (SARC), and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

If you know or suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking, contact the Louisiana State Police Fusion Center Hotline Number at 1-800-434-8007, Federal Law Enforcement at 1-866-373-7888, or text “HELP” or “INFO” to “BeFree” (233733).

Published in December 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline Data Report for Louisiana shows that a total of 339 tips were reported via phone call, text, Webchat, email, or online in Louisiana in 2020.

Recognizing indicators of human trafficking is the first step to identifying possible victims. The DHS has a full list of common indications online, some of which are listed below:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

(There are more indicators on DHS’s website. Not every indicator is present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.)