BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Louisiana is launching new initiatives to fight back against human trafficking. The Office of Human Trafficking Prevention reported 932 survivors received resources from one or more of their agencies in 2021. They expect the number of those stuck in the life of trafficking to be much higher.

“It’s just important to know that this crime has no respect for age, race, or socioeconomic status. It is touching every age group,” said Dr. Dana Hunter, executive director of the Office of Human Trafficking Prevention.

Their numbers show over 67% of survivors were under the age of 18. The majority of the trafficking activity recorded took place in Orleans and Caddo parishes but was felt throughout the state.

The office is working to educate people on what trafficking really looks like. While there are often images of chains and stories of being kidnapped, it often looks like a victim being groomed or coerced by someone they know into trafficking. Many struggle to find ways to talk about what is happening to them and are faced with threats from their trafficker.

“The psychological coercion that pimps and traffickers use to keep their victims in the life,” Hunter said.

A new hotline was launched to allow people to report suspected trafficking cases to the Department of Children and Family Services. The reports will also be investigated by the State Police. There is also trauma-informed training being led by survivors to help law enforcement take reports from those who have been trafficked.

“That when a victim does report, when they do disclose they have been harmed or they are in the life of trafficking that we can first believe them. I think that’s extremely important to encourage other victims who are silenced, who are just afraid,” Hunter said.

There is work being done to get more laws on the books that also recognize labor trafficking which is also under-reported and mislabeled. Hunter said there will be legislation introduced to include the language on some already existing laws.

She said there is a long way to go but Louisiana is making strong efforts to tackle the issue.