CAMP GRANT WALKER — Child trafficking can and does happen in areas big and small, so local child welfare organizations are training on how to combat that and educate their communities on how to help.
This week the groups learned about types of trafficking, what drives it, local statistics and what leads children to become victims of it. International human rights organization Love146 led the training.
Love146 is dedicated to ending child trafficking, providing education and support for survivors and more.
Local groups participating were the Children’s Advocacy Network (CAN), Cenla Pregnancy Center, Family Justice Center of Central Louisiana, S.T.A.R. (Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response), Youth Challenge Program, Rapides and Vernon parish representatives of the Department of Children and Family Services and Rapides Families in Need of Services (F.I.N.S.).
The problem isn’t isolated to larger cities.
“It’s here. In our communities, our neighborhoods. In your child’s school. In your back yard,” said Maegan d’Autremont, trafficking coordinator for CAN.
Indeed, one local case has generated headlines recently. A Pineville man was arrested earlier this year, accused of subjecting three minors to sexual trafficking and forced labor, allegedly water boarding them and making them bake and sell brownies to support him.
His case is pending in federal court.
But it’s far from the only case. Since 2018, CAN has seen 79 confirmed and high-risk trafficking cases — 17 confirmed and 62 high-risk.
There are five different types of trafficking — sex, child sex, labor and familial. People vulnerable to several factors can be easy prey for traffickers.
According to information provided by CAN, poverty is a big risk factor for trafficking, as well as a lack of social or economic opportunities. Traffickers know there’s high demand — and therefore potential huge profits — and that a lot of communities don’t recognize trafficking or choose not to confront it.
They also learned about how many trafficking victims can become offenders or seen as throw-away kids.
D’Autremont said people need to educate themselves on the root of such children’s behavior and why they’re in their situation. Children who run away to escape a bad home are more susceptible to trafficking, she said.
A goal of this training is to allow the local groups to educate the community.
“Education is the key,” she said before Tuesday’s training started. That includes within CAN, among the other groups that work with at-risk children and includes “streamlining it through the community … so that they can be more educated on what trafficking is and so that our parents that have these children know what to look for.”
Gregory Sampson, who works as a child welfare manager for the Department of Children and Family Services, sees children who have been trafficked. He said parents can monitor their children’s activities more closely, especially social media.
Directing them toward positive activities and spending quality time with their kids can help keep kids out of dangerous situations, too, he said.
D’Autremont says CAN sees the training and education as a preventative measure, a way to be proactive rather than reactive.
“The Children’s Advocacy Center is trying to put together this curriculum so that we’re taking Love146 and bringing it into our community and trying to streamline it so we can educate and prevent.”