While officials with the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office say they’ve had no cases with human trafficking, it is prevalent along the Interstate 20 corridor.
A human trafficking seminar was held at United Way of Northwest Louisiana – Webster, Bienville and Claiborne Thursday to bring awareness to an issue that is knocking on the parish’s door. Laurie McGeehee, Caddo Parish Juvenile Court probation manager, hosted the training, discussing what to look for, how to handle the situation if it presents itself and how women, children, men and transgenders are brought into being trafficked.
She talked about Maslow’s Heirarchy, a pyramid of what humans need. At the bottom of the triangle are humans’ most basic needs, she says, food, shelter, sleep, water and breathing.
It moves up into relationships and at the top is love.
“As you move up the triangle, you get into security, relationships, health, employment, resources, self-actualization,” she said. “We all need love and belonging and good self-esteem. That’s where you get to the top, where your creativity and your morals and beliefs live.”
She explained the definition of human trafficking: adults in the sex or labor industry by force, fraud or coercion. Minors involved in the sex industry are considered trafficking because they are not legally old enough to consent, she said.
Louisiana has one of the toughest sets of human trafficking laws in the United States, she says, which means not only do law enforcement seek out those who traffic humans, known as pimps, but those who benefit from it as well, known as johns.
In Louisiana, she says human trafficking is highly organized, due to the I-20 and I-49 corridor. It can be individuals selling children in their homes or neighborhoods for money, drugs, food or a place to stay.
McGeehee told a story of a child that as young as age 6, was sold by her mother for drugs. She told of another where a 15-year-old girl was coerced into the sex trade by a man who pretended to love her. He reportedly lured her in by feeding her, buying groceries for her family and providing her with a job.
Other signs to look for she said: multiple sexually transmitted diseases at once, tattoos/branding, hotel activity, unusual responses to regular stimuli, a runaway, or pattern of truancy.
McGeehee says tattoos are a big giveaway in that some girls who are trafficked are tattooed with a barcode. It could also be a tattoo of a gang affiliation.
Mary Ellen Gamble, DART advocate in Claiborne Parish, says the backgrounds or the pattern of violence closely relates to those of domestic abuse victims.
“This just parallels it,” she said. “I was encouraged to hear that Louisiana has great laws. We also have great domestic violence laws. Our issue is that especially in our rural areas that sometimes our law enforcement and our judges are not up on those laws, and I can imagine it’s the same way with human trafficking. They don’t understand the dynamics.”
McGeehee says there are a number of judges in Louisiana that don’t know it is a Safe Harbor state, which means no one under the age of 18 can be prosecuted for prostitution.
Human trafficking doesn’t just affect women and children, but men and the transgender population as well, she said.
There are a number of resources available to help survivors of human trafficking get out of the trade and build a life, McGeehee said.