The Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) entered the fight against Human Trafficking in late 2017. The Agency got involved because we received numerous complaints about illegal activities and suspected trafficking in the French Quarter. After learning of the amount of illegal activities and suspected trafficking in French Quarter clubs and clubs throughout the state, I had a conversation with the Governor and we exchanged concerns over the fact that Louisiana has become a corridor for human trafficking. The Governor’s Office, the Administration as a whole and ATC are greatly concerned about the impact that human trafficking can have on the lives of innocent victims, their families and citizens in the state.
To help combat the problem, I created a Human Trafficking Task Force within ATC. The sole responsibility of this task force is to investigate potential trafficking complaints and to work with local enforcement agencies and others to stop trafficking. One approach ATC has taken is to go after businesses that foster or allow activities such as prostitution, trafficking or drug use/distribution on premises.
Within a short time we realized that this problem is far more widespread than any of us imagined. After meeting survivors and hearing their stories, we became outraged more passionate about the fight. The real wakeup call for me was when I realized this is happening all around us. I received heartbreaking calls from friends and people in my community telling me stories about their children’s schoolmates who have fallen victim. I have also spoken to ministers who had congregation members fall victim. I realized these kids were just like my children and moreover these mothers were just like me. Many kids became victims because like their parents and teachers were unaware of the lurking danger.
Listening to survivors prompted me to reflect of my time on the criminal court bench. When I think of the young prostitutes, thieves and drug users who came through the court, I now wonder how many of them were victims? I did not recognize the signs because I had little knowledge of trafficking at that time. It pains me to think I may have seen victims and missed the chance to help them.
The ATC Human Trafficking Task Force focuses on enforcement, but I have made it my personal mission to raise awareness and educate the public. With the help pf the Governor’s Office and some of our state partners, ATC has been able to create and expand our educational programs designed to educate servers, casinos employees, drivers and the faith based community. I believe that a number of victims can be identified and saved if we all learn to spot them and call the trafficking hotline. The month of January was recognized as Human Trafficking month. The ATC, Senator Troy Carter and the New Orleans Cluster Links Incorporated Chapters successfully hosted a Human Trafficking Symposium to bring awareness to the New Orleans community. We were blessed and thankful to have the symposium held at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries Church. We had participation from the Governor’s Office, cabinet members, state agencies and a beautiful message of encouragement from First Lady Donna Edwards inspiring others to join this fight.