NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana was awarded a $1.2 million grant to help victims of sex trafficking, Governor John Bel Edwards announced Saturday (Jan. 26), during a Human Trafficking Symposium
ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard and Senator Troy Carter were among the many speakers raising awareness about the issue, which was held during Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“We got involved because we started seeing complaints about trafficking in adult entertainment clubs, bars, and actually like restaurants and package stores around the state,” Marine-Lombard said.
Marine-Lombard said she started working with the governor on this issue after realizing how serious it is in the state.
"I started learning about the fact that we are a corridor. The I-10 and I-20 corridor are perfect trafficking sites. Louisiana has become a corridor for trafficking victims going from Florida to Texas," Marine-Lombard said.
Those who have been personally affected by trafficking, like Juanita Carruth, shared their stories
“My daughter was sold to a trafficker by a transgender woman, who also was extorting my husband and I for money for the safe return of my daughter,” Carruth said.
Selika Corley-Funchess told her daughter’s story, who went missing from Jackson, Mississippi in Dec. 2012.
“She was drugged, she was sexually assaulted and she was beaten,” Selika Corley-Funchess said.
According to the ATC, Orleans Parish has one of the highest cases of trafficking in the state.
"We've passed great laws, so we've got great laws on the books. Now, it's a matter of enforcing it, it's a matter of preventing it, and it's a matter of education," Carter said.
Carter said the symposium is the first step of many.
"We have to continue to preach it, continue to educate, continue to put the information out there and turn the lights on, so criminals will know that you are not going to continue to trick these young men and women into this life of evil," Carter said.
The mothers of victims said they hope sharing their stories will help prevent others from being trafficked.
"It can be difficult to produce it and get it out, get the message out there, but I don't want another mother to go through what I had to go through," Corley-Funchess said
"Awareness is very important, and New Orleans needs to recognize this is happening whether we like it or not," Carruth said.
To report trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1 (888) 373-7888.