NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - During the final weekend of the Carnival season, people who help human trafficking victims have a warning for young parade-goers, and a local agency that works with people with substance abuse problems will have a presence among parade watchers.
"You shouldn’t be wandering around with anybody from a parade route. You have thousands and thousands of people here that are strangers, you don’t know who they are, you don’t know their background, if they’re sex offenders, whatever,” said Sheri Lochridge, Senior Human Trafficking Case Manager at Covenant House.
Lochridge said human traffickers flock to major events.
"If you’re a vulnerable youth and somebody’s asking to get you some food out of the blue, they’re asking to bring you for a drink, they’re asking to take you back to their hotel for a party, those all should be red flags that there’s an ulterior motive,” she said.
Experts say sex traffickers are about making money, and they look for areas where young people are known to gather.
"The data shows that awareness is working, however, when you have certain events like Mardi Gras, there’s an opportunity to make more money. Obviously it’s going to be an opportunity for more people to be exploited,” stated Lochridge.
Meanwhile, some local agencies see parades as an opportunity to connect with people with substance abuse issues. The Metropolitan Human Services District will have medical and mental health professionals on the parade route Sunday.
"Many times people are not comfortable coming into our clinics or in our offices when they have a substance abuse problem or mental health problem, and so this really is meeting them in their natural environment at events where people are more relaxed,” said Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, Executive and Medical Director of Metropolitan Human Services District.
MHSD’s mobile team includes a prevention specialist.
"Mingling within the crowd, giving out information, allowing people to come to our booth where we have a lot of information,” said Dr. Head-Dunham.
So this year, the biggest weekend of the Carnival season comes with free help for some, and a warning for others.
"People are here to watch the parades. If they’re trying to remove you from that scene, it’s for a reason,” said Lochridge.