by Melissa Kenyon and Megan F. Kurtz
Leaders from the Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) ABOLISH Movement committee, dedicated to bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking, recently sat down for an interview with local expert, Leanne McCallum. Leanne, who served previously as Task Force Coordinator for the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force, now serves the Louisiana Alliance of Children’s Advocacy Center as the Strategic Projects Manager.
What is human trafficking? Human trafficking is when a person is physically forced, tricked or psychologically coerced into providing sex or labor services. Human trafficking can happen to anyone, including children, adults, elders, men, women, transgender men or women, gender nonconforming persons, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.
Who is being trafficked, and why are some individuals more at risk? Traffickers take advantage of the most vulnerable populations. This is particularly true for those who are marginalized, or have a compromised legal status, such as foreign nationals or formerly incarcerated people. These vulnerabilities are why traffickers target these folks.
Is human trafficking a prevalent issue in New Orleans? The term ‘trafficking’ is relatively new, but human trafficking has happened in New Orleans for as long as the city has existed. However, we have limited data to understand the magnitude of sex and labor trafficking in the city because trafficking is a hidden crime. Frequently, victims and survivors of trafficking do not come forward. Since 2016, the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force has served more than 530 trafficking survivors. In 2018, the Department of Children and Family Services found that there were 681 high-risk or confirmed cases of human trafficking across the state of Louisiana.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected trafficking? COVID-19 has made our community members especially vulnerable to abuse. Disasters, like a pandemic, can cause people to lose their jobs, homes, livelihoods, communities, support systems and stability. Desperation can force people to take offers that they wouldn’t usually take, and traffickers often take advantage of people who are trying to survive in the aftermath of disaster.
If I see someone who might be a victim of trafficking, what should I do? If you see someone who might be a victim of trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Using this hotline is the best way to connect to local partners in the Greater New Orleans area to support the potential victim.
How can I make a difference and help put an end to trafficking? If we can go “upstream” and work toward preventing vulnerabilities, we can help prevent at risk populations from becoming trafficking targets. The best means for prevention is to support initiatives that improve housing security, living wages, childhood wellness and development, equality and access to services.
In 2019, JLNO joined the ABOLISH Movement, the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI) collective initiative to combat human trafficking. JLNO engaged and developed partnerships with Covenant House, Eden House and Truckers Against Trafficking to present a public panel in January 2020 in conjunction with Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This year, JLNO’s ABOLISH committee continues its educational mission, presenting an online series facilitating dialogue among individuals and organizations dedicated to ending trafficking.
On January 21, 2021, JLNO will host an online public panel event focusing on local anti-trafficking efforts and ways the community can help. Please visit www.jlno.org for registration information.