NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Advocates for victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation say with two new laws, law enforcement has more tools to battle the problem.
Governor John Bel Edwards signed a pair of bills into law that those who work with young sex abuse, or sexual exploitation victims call a huge step.
All over the country young people get caught in the web of sex trafficking according to Jim Kelly, the Executive Director of Covenant House of New Orleans.
"A young woman doesn't simply get involved in human trafficking and not be assaulted, not be raped, not have to sleep with men who are the slime of the earth," Kelly said. "I'm sorry that's the only way I can look at it."
Senate Bill 90 provides that the crime of human trafficking includes when a person knowingly recruits, harbors, solicits, sells, purchases or maintains the use of a person under the age of 21 for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity, regardless of whether the person was recruited. Under the new law it is not a defense against prosecution for a person to say he or she did not know the age of the victim, or that the victim consented to the prohibited activity.
The law goes into effect on Aug. 1 and requires violators to be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned up to 50 years.
"If you want to curb sex trafficking you've got to lock up the human traffickers," Kelly said. "In the past, if you had a woman who was 18, 19 years of age who was been trafficked you would have to prove beyond any doubt that she was being trafficked, now a legal, law enforcement professional can say this woman is being trafficked, they don't have to prove force, fraud or coercion."
Senate Bill 468 was also signed into law by the governor. It requires that all entertainers statewide who perform with exposed breasts or buttocks be 21 or older.
In January, the city council voted to raise the minimum age of strip club dancers in New Orleans to 21. Now that age minimum will be used statewide.
Kelly believes such entertainment is a pipeline to sex trafficking.
"What we have found with the clients, and the young people who come through our doors, is that the strip joints are fertile ground for traffickers," Kelly said. "We want to eliminate that fertile ground for the traffickers."
The consequences of sexual abuse and exploitation can be life-altering according to Molly Bartlett, Director of Programs for Family Services of Greater New Orleans.
"We see a lot of clients who come in the door with depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues ... some self-destructive behavior, internalizing disorders," Bartlett said.
Victims of sexual abuse or exploitation often blame themselves. "The feeling that they were somehow responsible, or that they could have stopped it," Bartlett said. And experts say the scars of sexual exploitation and sex abuse often do not heal easily.
"It's really just about helping that individual move through what happened to them without keeping the anger, the depression," Bartlett said.
Strip club managers contacted for comment for this story refused to give a statement.