La. legislature to address rise of human trafficking in metro area

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 27, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Monica Hernandez/ Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS - Force, fraud, and coercion, experts say, are all factors of human trafficking. It's a crime experts believe is more prevalent in the metro area than you might think.

"Being in the wake of Katrina, there's been an influx, a lot of migrant workers. Keep in mind, New Orleans is also a port. The transient nature of the city, that makes it pretty much a hotbed of trafficking activity," said Mauricio Aguilar, a human trafficking case manager with the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children.

The center is part of the Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force, created after Hurricane Katrina.

Since Aguilar started with the organization in 2008, he's worked with over two dozen victims of human trafficking. He believes many other cases are never reported.

"It's almost like entrapment, if you will," said Aguilar.

Those who work with victims of human trafficking say the majority of cases they see in the metro area have to do with forced labor, but they're starting to see some sex trafficking cases as well.

But this legislative session, one lawmaker is hoping to curb those crimes. At the governor's request, state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is introducing a bill that would increase the penalty for those who aid and abet in human trafficking and the the child sex trade.

"It's really focused on reaching out to those people who may provide assistance to human trafficking, and it's similar to what we've done with racketeering laws, is you reach out and involve anyone involved in the criminal enterprise," said Leger. "It seems that laws around the country are seeking to crack down on this type of behavior."

Those who work with victims said the bill is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

"I think it's a matter of identifying the cases and prosecuting them," said Martin Gutierrez, director of neighborhood and community services for Catholic Charities. "You can have a bunch of laws on the books, but if you don't have the cases to apply the laws too, then what  good is it?" 

Experts say community outreach is also an important step in trying to stop human trafficking. If you spot suspicious activity, you're asked to contact your local law enforcement agency. The Metropolitan Center for Women and Children can also help. You can reach that agency at 504-837-5400.

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