Jun 27, 2013 11:37 PM by Erin Steuber
Louisiana is among the top 10 worst states in the country for human trafficking.
But what exactly is human trafficking? It's commonly defined as the buying, or selling of a person for sexual purposes, forced labor or any other coerced explotation. This modern day slavery is a problem most people assume is happening only overseas, but it's also happening right here in the U.S. and Louisiana. Baton Rouge and New Orleans are two of the worst cities.
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, bringing in more revenue every year than Google, Starbucks and Nike combined.
There are more than 27 million victims worldwide. Of those victims, more than 100,000 U.S. children are exploited to prostitution every year. And only one out of every 100 will be rescued. But for those that are rescued, or somehow manage to escape, where do they turn?
Here in Louisiana there hasn't been a place of refuge for these victims, until now: Welcome to Hope House of Louisiana.
A gate with two silver "H's", miles off the road in rural south Louisiana, represents the first shelter for victims of human trafficking in Louisiana.
"You know, if you think of a commodity that's designed for a specific purpose, that's what these girls are," said Chuck Robb, the executive director of Hope House. "They're dehumanized, and so when they come in there is a humanization of them again, giving them choices they've not had. There's a reprogramming to give them a hope and help them understand that they do have a future."
Hope House of Louisiana will be a long-term housing shelter that will provide victims, 18 and older, with anything they need to heal. Many of them suffering from years of repeated abuse both physically, and emotionally.
"These girls have been abused and in circumstances we could never imagine, the worst nightmare we probably can even think of," said the Founder of Hope House and Trafficking Hope, Laura Domingue. "These girls will have a comprehensive curriculum to get these girls renewed, restored and go back into society as productive individuals. That's our goal."
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world. Drug dealing is the first. But it's projected by 2015 human trafficking will take the top slot. Research shows predators look for girls with lower self-esteem, who are easily manipulated. Warning signs of trafficking can be a significantly older boyfriend, tattoos at a young age, substance abuse and homelessness.
"It could happen to your daughter, your niece, and a lot of times people need to be aware and look beneath the surface," said Domingue. "It's happening right here and you may not even be aware of it."
Hope House is undergoing the final stages of construction. It is a project of Trafficking Hope, which is a Louisiana based anti-trafficking organization with the purpose to educate and create awareness. They are hoping to open the shelter as soon as possible.
"There are 4 girls that are waiting to come in this facility right now," said Robb. "The greatest concern I have is we'll lose them back into the game, back into the life because we're not open."