Welcome to another new year – a unique year for John Bel and me as we begin the last year of his second term. We are in the HOME STRETCH. It is hard to believe. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime all at once. But it has been a journey we will not forget.
So while we start this new year, I’d like to review what we have accomplished thus far. I will write about a different facet of LFF’s impact each month. I will start with Human Trafficking. The work done through the Louisiana First Foundation has been impactful to so many across our state. I intend to continue this work, and I hope you will all continue supporting our work as we move forward.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In 2016, a diocesan priest, an order of nuns, and a group of concerned citizens approached me to inform me about human trafficking and what was happening in Louisiana. I immediately knew I had to address the issue statewide and added Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness as my third official initiative. Right away, the Governor and I assisted in developing Metanoia Manor – the state’s only residential facility for minor survivors. In addition, we have formed partnerships with many nonprofits working on Human Trafficking, including Covenant House, the United Way, and Empower 225. If you read through the information on this link, you can gather more information on our efforts statewide, nationally, and internationally.
In 2018, I met with the director of the DARE programs. As a result, I introduced, along with the newly formed Governor’s Office of Human Trafficking Prevention (GOHTP), an idea to add age-appropriate instruction regarding trafficking to the DARE program. As a result, LFF and the GOHTP began working on the curriculum, approved it at the state and federal levels, and sent it to the DARE office. Their office consequently approved it and the added verbiage to the curriculum.
When the pandemic constrained us in 2020, our office moved to host our regular Human Trafficking Summits online through the Zoom platform. We held six summits in 2020-2021. Our first summit had 237 attendees from 19 states. Our last summit in October of 2022 had over 800 attendees from 28 states, Guam, Australia, and the Vatican. LFF has emerged as a national and international leader on this topic, and through our zoom summits, we connected with First Spouses from across the country who are also working on this issue.
To further elevate the importance of ending this crime, I formed the National Coalition for the Prevention of Human Sex Trafficking (NCPHST) in 2021 with First Ladies from six other states. On April 1st, 2022, we held the first NCPHST awareness event. The event sold out in six weeks and had over 500 attendees, including executives from the NCAA, NFL, the US Department of Justice, the Vatican, and several national organizations that address trafficking. In addition, we received a statement of support from the National Basketball Coaches Association. But more importantly, we were able to train over 2,800 hospitality workers, E.M.T.s, Emergency Room staff, and 911 operators. The training provided these people, who are often the first in contact with trafficking victims (many underage), the knowledge and resources to recognize trafficking and get the victims connected to the appropriate resources.
A panel discussion with human trafficking survivors was a feature of the NCPSHT program. Represented among the panel of survivors was the experience of a male survivor. We are well aware that boys are trafficking victims, too. However, their voice is often underrepresented. It was so impactful to hear his perspective. A survivor-led advisory board guides the Human Trafficking Prevention Commission, and the board has one male member. For many reasons, it is much more difficult for male survivors to speak out. Having that male survivor on the panel and providing an outlet to tell his story was impactful in a way I won’t soon forget.
Additionally, I provided my support to partner with Crimestoppers to develop an app, SAFE SCHOOLS LOUISIANA, for students to report instances of trafficking confidentially. This app is available to all schools in Louisiana. You can read more about the app here. Since the app’s introduction in 2019, 415 schools have enrolled, and students have sent in over 1,000 tips. We continue to urge all schools to sign up to use the app.
I was honored with several opportunities to speak internationally about Louisiana’s work to address trafficking, including at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a convening with the former Scotland Yard Commissioner of Human Trafficking and the Santa Marta Group. This international reach garnered recognition from the Queen of Sweden, who works diligently on this effort. As a result, our office hosted a delegation from Sweden to share our efforts, resources, and best practices with them. The Louisiana Consular Corps also met with me to address this issue and identify ways to work together to eradicate this heinous crime.
Working closely with the GOHTP, many critical legislative items have been enacted. My office and I worked closely with all involved in these legislative pieces to ensure we were informed, involved, and updated. I encourage you to look through our website and especially encourage you to read through the human trafficking articles in our past issues. We have come so far but still have so far to go.
Again, I thank you for your support through this essential work. It will take all of us to eradicate this crime against humanity. I will continue to help our vulnerable populations in the future as well. I hope you’ll join me.