Group organized to fight human trafficking in Calcasieu
Published 8:16 am Friday, August 26, 2022
The United Against Human Trafficking Coalition in Calcasieu Parish was launched Thursday.
United Against Human Trafficking is a nonprofit based out of Houston. The organization has taken great strides to aide victims of human trafficking, provide education and resources to the public. UAHT has also advocated for legislation that fights human trafficking since 2005.
UAHT’s partnership with multiple SWLA organizations is the first expansion in what they hope will become a large network of communities working together and sharing resources to help survivors. The end goal of UAHT is to bring a “collective end to human trafficking.”
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Currently, the Coalition has 63 entities and organizations committed to their mission. Chief Programs and Strategies Officer Elaine Andino stated that this includes governmental sectors, law enforcement, colleges, churches, nonprofits, and individuals.
“We really just have a whole group of people who are dedicated to working alongside each other,” she said.
According to Titus Benton, UAHT Chief Operating Officer, community outreach is more important now than ever.
Ken Henry, UAHT Coalition and Expansion Manager, explained that SWLA’s proximity to Texas and prominent Casino and Gaming industry are primary causes for the high-risk status.
“We have a major domestic problem here… Houston is known as number one right now,” he said. “You have the I-10 corridor that people are using to move and transport people.”
“It is very, very important that people understand that by the time it hits your home, it is too late… so I would definitely say please don’t think that this is so far away from you. We have a major issue right here in Calcasieu Parish, and we’re answering that call.”
Laurie Martin, United Way of Southwest Louisiana Vice President and Head of Community Outreach, stated that the awareness that this coalition will provide is vital. “We feel that awareness is very much needed right now, because Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana have always thought, ‘not us, not us,’” she said. “We are becoming aware that it is us.”
She explained that the Coalition in Calcasieu Parish will work through four workgroups based on the four steering committee pillars: Policy, advocacy and research, survivor services, economic empowerment and education.
The policy, advocacy and research workgroup will be led by Lacey Shull, Office of Juvenile Justice Services Program Manager. “What we’re basically trying to do is create systematic change by advocating for legislation that mitigates human trafficking at the municipal and state levels,” she stated.
This workgroup has partnered with Baton Rouge via their Human Trafficking Prevention Commision and Advisory Board. “All the information will be funneled through them straight to our legislators,” she said. “That way, we can go ahead and push to get not only legislation to prevent human trafficking, but also legislation to help those survivors.”
Joshua Campbell of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury will be leading survivor services. “We say this a lot in our community, we are very service rich, but sometimes delivery poor,” he said. “The ultimate goals of surivior services is going to be to unify those best practices for supporting those individuals who have experienced human trafficking as they work to shape their own future.”
He explained that their primary goal is to unify survivors and provide them with the support they require.
The economic empowerment chair will be Erica Dozier, assistant director for Human Services with the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. She stated that their main goals will be to increase access to skill development, as well as “connecting survivors to production of assets,” which include home ownership or business capitalization.
Local Business Coffee 30 announced their role as an Economic Empowerment Partner. This Sunday, Aug. 28, they will be hosting their one year anniversary party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. At this party, there will be a UAHT table with information available to the public.
Amanda Willis will be the education workgroup chair. Martin says this group “focuses on developing resources to increase community awareness and education in order to prevent human trafficking within the community.”
Benton stated that it was “a gift to be here” in Calcasieu Parish.
Some of the recent work has come from the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office. Gene Pittman, CPSO Enforcement Commander stated that he believes this coalition is going to be a substantial addition to the victim services.
The SWLA Human Trafficking Task Force Tip-Line launched on July 19, 2022. Since its launch, the tip line has received 13 total calls. 3 of these tips are currently under active investigation.
To report a tip, call 337-491-7592 or submit the tip on the CloseWatch Calcasieu app.
The UAHT Coalition in Calcasieu Parish meetings will take place every other month on the last Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. The first meeting will be on Oct. 27, 2022. Those that are interested in becoming members can contact United Way SWLA or visit unitedwayswla.org/humantrafficking.