New numbers recently released by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services showed an overall 50 percent increase in human trafficking in the state from 2016 to 2017. For victims under 18, there was a 77 percent reported jump.

According to the report, there were 681 human trafficking victims in the state in 2017. Of those victims, over half (356) were under 18.

DCFS has been collecting this data to provide to lawmakers for four years now. The department gets the numbers from agencies across the state and more agencies are now reporting, so it is worth noting that’s a possible cause for the increase.

“A big thing for us this year, which reflects on the numbers, is that we had an increase in the number of providers providing data to us,” child welfare consultant Walter Fahr said.

DCFS works with agencies, like Metanoia in Baton Rouge, to gather information about victims in the state. Metanoia founder, Father Jeff Bayhi, talked about who is more susceptible. 

“The children who are most vulnerable are the children who come from broken homes, are runaways or have very little parental control in their lives,” Bayhi said.

Fahr said, while a majority of reported victims are females, males also are victims of human trafficking. He said male victims are less likely to report, so it is hard to get a clear picture.

Community partners like Bayhi are working with state leaders to address the human trafficking problem in an effort to combat it. The governor’s office hosted a series of human trafficking summits across the state to bring together law enforcement, social workers, prosecutors and more to work towards preventative action.

“We are going to see a lot more local developments both within this community and hopefully around the state,” Fahr said. 

Fahr said the best line of defense starts in the home, so he shared some preventative tips for parents. He suggests knowing who your child is talking to online, having an open line of communication with your child and keeping your child involved in activities with peers.

The full report is provided here.