Human trafficking in spotlight

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Let’s be honest now. How many of you out there were aware that human trafficking is a major crime problem in Louisiana? Did

you know that Baton Rouge ranks in the top 10 cities where human beings are placed in bondage for sexual purposes?

Gov. Bobby Jindal brought the issue to

light last week during what up to that point had been a lackluster first

week of the

regular legislative session. He noted that most of us usually

think of such things happening in faraway places like Eastern

Europe, Asia or Africa. “... But those are just a few of many

places around the globe where this tragedy is happening,” Jindal

said. “It is an actual underground business happening right here

in our state and throughout our nation...”

Actually, a number of stories on human

trafficking have been published in Louisiana newspapers and featured on

television

stations in recent years. Maybe some of us have remained in the

dark because we don’t see it as a local problem. And perhaps

we in the media could have done more to make everyone aware that

no community escapes the scourge of this horrific crime.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of

State Police, reeled off some statistics last week that brought home the

pervasiveness

of the crime. He said State Police have opened 476 solicitation

cases, 310 child pornography cases and 390 exploitation cases

since 2008. It was only a misdemeanor before Jindal took office,

but it’s a priority now, he said.

Adults, and parents in particular,

should take heed to what Edmonson said about how young girls get trapped

into human trafficking.

Most victims say the same thing, he said: Someone paid attention

to them and made them feel more valuable.”

Jindal added, “Often the most

vulnerable in society are targeted — those who have been abused or who

don’t have a family to

walk through life with every day. There are millions of women

living in this slavery who will go to sleep tonight praying

for a way out, praying for a voice in the midst of darkness. That

is why we are proposing this (human trafficking) legislation

— to be a voice for those who do not have one.”

Clemmie Greenlee, a former victim of

sex trafficking from Nashville, helped Jindal shine the spotlight on the

problem and

give it a human face. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, told Greenlee’s

story over a year ago. “Former sex trafficking victim shines

light on dark underworld of Super Bowl,” said the headline.

Greenlee said those who victimize young

girls make them think they are developing a loving relationship. That

is what happened

to her at age 12, she said, when she was abducted and gang-raped

by her captors who injected her and others with heroin, tortured

them and, at times, handcuffed them to beds.

Freedom for Greenlee came in her 30s

when she ran away from her captors. They didn’t chase her, she said,

because she had

“aged out.” A former sex worker who knew Greenlee visited her

often and left cards at Magdalene House, a safe house in Nashville.

However, it wasn’t until Greenlee was 42 that she decided she had

to learn how to “live and heal.”

“The one thing I had in my head was, ‘If I learn how to live and heal, I can get back and get those girls. I can go back and

tell people what they do to us...,’” she said.

Greenlee now works with Eden House in New Orleans, which is described as “a safe haven for women who have survived lives of

human trafficking, prostitution, violence and addiction.”

Local residents will be happy to know

that Willie Mount, former state senator and mayor of Lake Charles, in

2011 urged legislators

to form the Human Trafficking Study Work Group. Its goal was to

assess the problem and make policy recommendations to Jindal.

Obviously, some of that led to the governor’s planned all-out

attack on human trafficking that he announced Tuesday.

Two bills form the nucleus of what the governor wants to do. One of the two is by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans. It creates

harsher punishments and better tools for cracking down on human trafficking. The seizure of personal property belonging to

those engaged in the crime will provide some of the funding necessary to help rehabilitate victims.

Greenlee talked about ending up in jail a hundred times, and the second bill by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Jefferson Parish, would

create human trafficking courts and train judges who handle those cases.

“... Human trafficking victims are often prosecuted as offenders when the real need of the victim is rescue, restoration and

rehabilitation,” Stokes said.

The member of a Baton Rouge federal

court’s human trafficking task force in 2011 said many victims are

afraid to say anything,

fearing retaliation against them or their families. And some of

the youngest victims — 12 to 14 — aren’t even aware they are

being exploited, she said.

Let’s hope this new emphasis on human

trafficking, a more concerted law enforcement effort and trained judges

who can steer

the victims toward rehabilitation will do as Jindal said — protect

the most vulnerable members of Louisiana society from sexual

exploitation.