January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human trafficking is defined as the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
However, human trafficking is trade in people for labor or sexual exploitation, especially women and children, and does not necessarily involve the movement of the person from one place to another. Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.
Many may think that human trafficking is a foreign problem or at least a problem that does not occur in states like Louisiana and especially not in small communities such as Union Parish or Farmerville.
As a matter of fact, human trafficking is said to often be “hidden in plain sight.” Human trafficking is an ugly business and many people want to turn their heads and pretend that it simply does not exist. Our society can no longer afford to do that.
The statistics are absolutely staggering, especially for children. Not just how many children are being trafficked, but how they are being taken, treated and where they end up. According to the Child Liberation Foundation the vast majority of children who are taken are forced into sex trade work or end up doing manual labor. They are modern slaves and suffer physical and psychological fallout from the nightmare they endure. The Child Liberation Foundation reports that worldwide there are over 40 million victims of human trafficking and 25 percent of those are children. On average these children are exploited 20-30 times a day.
As a mother, these are horrifying statistics and thinking of what those children undoubtedly endure is heartbreaking. Although, what you and I imagine is probably not even close to the terrors they face.
In Louisiana, social services reported that in 2019, juveniles accounted for 543 or over 57 percent of the total sex trafficked victims. According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, three of those child trafficking cases occurred in Union Parish. Three… 3 precious souls who endured a nightmare that none of us could even begin to imagine. But you know what? Those were just the three who were discovered. How many more are out there? How many are “hidden in plain sight?”
We as a community need to be more aware of signs and signals to look for. Domestic violence agencies are trained to look for and identify red flags or indicators that might point to potential victims, including:
• Injuries or other signs of abuse and is reluctant to explain them
• Appears malnourished
• Branded or marked with a tattoo
• Dressed in a provocative manner or in the same clothes regardless of weather or circumstance
• Has very few personal possessions
• No identification
• Fearful, withdrawn, depressed
• Talks about inappropriate acts with multiple people
• Can’t speak for themselves
• Not enrolled in school or chronically absent
• Accompanied by someone who controls their every move
• Unable to come and go freely
Maybe by familiarizing ourselves with the signs to look for, we as a society can make a difference in the ever-rising statistics of this horrible crime. We never know when one of these poor souls might cross our paths. And if we can help… even just with one person, a life has been changed for the better. Let us come together as a community and help educate each other, our friends, neighbors and co-workers. Let us have our eyes, minds and hearts open at all times, because from this Momma’s perspective, three victims in Union Parish is three too many.
Charlette Hilton is a Mother of 2, a Louisiana Tech graduate and serves as Editor and Advertising Director for The Gazette. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org