Loyola study shows strides in human trafficking, but problem persists

Louisiana has made great strides when it comes to passing laws dealing with human trafficking, but with victims showing up in everything from the sex trade to the seafood industry, a new Loyola study shows there's still much work to do.

The study shows that the numbers of human trafficking victims here may be on the rise.

"I can go to places in new Orleans and see girls who are being trafficked and nobody's doing anything about it," said victim advocate Beth Salcedo.

Salcedo is an attorney for girls who are often prosecuted for prostitution, even though they're forced into it. She said the prevailing attitude among many victims is, "So what if I got beat up a little bit? He gave me attention."

The study also found that humans are being forced into harsh labor in industries like construction and seafood. One Breaux Bridge crawfish processor had to pay out more than  $214,000 in fines, after nine migrant workers went on strike. They were forced to work up to 90 hours a week with no overtime and few breaks. They were also subjected to threats of violence.

"What we need is much more financial help for law enforcement," said Salcedo.

Not only is more money needed for law enforcement, but the state needs more shelters, and neither option is cheap.

"Bars, and concrete block, that's not going to do anything. This is a person that needs counseling," said Jim Kelly with Covenant House.

The study found that between 2009 and 2012, 140 victims of human trafficking - some as young as 6 years old - were identified in New Orleans, and calls to a human trafficking hotline nearly doubled last year.

"It's incredible the number of children that are out there," said Salcedo.

The state has made strides and has earned an "A" rating from the human trafficking advocacy group Shared Hope. The rating is for recent legislation that criminalizes commercial sex exploitation of minors and forces traffickers to pay into a victims treatment fund.

"We're making the right steps, you've got the judges and the legislature all moving," said Kelly.

There is also a new push for a court that would deal exclusively with human trafficking to ease confusion and get help for victims.

"With the child I saw last week, this court was not familiar with trafficking," said Salcedo.

She said that unfamiliarity often leads to penalties that don't address the real problems of victimization. And Salcedo pledges to continue trying to help as many human trafficking victims as she can.

The director of Covenant House said they have a number of housing options, and they house and counsel hundreds of human trafficking victims each year.

Salcedo and her husband are about to open a shelter for victims on the north shore.

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