Calcasieu, federal officials form task force to combat trafficking
Published 7:45 pm Thursday, January 27, 2022
Several law enforcement agencies announced at a press conference Thursday the formation of the Southwest Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said the task force will educate businesses like casinos, hotels and convenience stores on spotting possible signs of human trafficking to get victims out of dangerous situations. It partners various local, state and national law enforcement agencies and area nonprofits.
“We are going to take a strong stance and do everything we can to make sure they don’t harm anyone in our public,” he said. “It takes all of us being on the same page for this to work and be successful in our community.”
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Brandon Brown, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, said a human trafficking task force was created in northwestern Louisiana in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 landfall of Hurricanes Laura and Delta delayed the creation of a similar task force in Southwest Louisiana.
Victims of human trafficking are often underage and forced into abusive situations, Mancuso said. He spoke of a case several years earlier that involved a woman who was threatened and forced into prostitution.
“Some of these people think there’s no other life,” the sheriff said. “They are beaten down and sometimes, because of their status in life and how people view them, they feel like no one will listen to them. We will listen to them.”
Brown said the task force is intended to help victims of human trafficking, as well as their families. He said victims of human trafficking are often the most vulnerable and come from a difficult upbringing.
“It’s a form of modern-day slavery in my opinion,” Brown said.
Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Stephen Dwight said Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana can be a hot bed for human trafficking activity.
“They can target this area with the casinos and tourism we have,” he said. “We have rail here, the port, (Interstate)10.”
Brown said law enforcement agencies have used social medial to come up with better strategies to monitor human trafficking. However, criminals have become smarter at the same time.
“We have to stay vigilant, aggressive and creative at the same time in order to take down these organizations,” Brown said.
Anthony Celestine, director of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s Office of Juvenile Justice Services, said the agency is committed to finding results and solutions that effectively combat human trafficking.
“We want to do our best to assure that every young child and young adult has the right to be free from the ugliness of human trafficking,” he said.
Brown said there are plans to create task forces in other areas of the state. January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Other agencies participating in the task force include: Lake Charles Police, FBI, Calcasieu Combined Anti-Drug Task Force, Calcasieu School Board, Child Advocacy Center, Department of Child and Family Services, Diocese of Lake Charles, Family and Youth Counseling Agency, Oasis Rape Crisis, SANE, United Way of Southwest Louisiana and Water’s Edge Gathering.
Agencies or nonprofits that want to be involved with the task force can email email@example.com.