BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has awarded Louisiana a $1.2 million grant that will fund a new Louisiana Child Trafficking Collaborative, Governor John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday.
Edwards said the collaborative will help Louisiana identify or develop best practices to prevent human trafficking. He said there were at least 681 cases of confirmed or possible sex trafficking victims in 2017, citing a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) study presented to the legislature in February of 2018.
At least 356 of those cases involved children, a 77 percent increase from the prior year, Edwards said.
“There’s no state in the country that is doing more to identify and help these victims and put an end to this criminal enterprise,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of work left to do, but I’m confident that we are making great progress and we’re going to make even more progress as we move forward.”
Louisiana is the only state to receive the DOJ grant this year, and just seven other states have received the grant since 2015. Edwards said the federal government wants to invest its funding “where it will make the most difference.”
“The reason these dollars are coming to Louisiana is because of the work that we’ve already done,” he said. “The depravity that exists... I don’t think it manifests itself anywhere in a more diabolical fashion than human trafficking.”
Shared Hope International, a victims' advocacy group, ranked Louisiana’s anti-trafficking laws as the best in the nation in 2016. Louisiana is one of ten states to receive an "A" grade for its laws from the same group in 2018.
Edwards said Louisiana suffers from unique problems because it hosts so many major events and is home to a number of tourist attractions. A massive influx of visitors during a weekend can create an ideal market for traffickers to shop their slaves' services.
“We’re not in a position, as in other cases, where you just go out and look at another state and say, ‘They’ve already tackled this challenge, so we’re just going to borrow from them,’” Edwards said. “We accept that it’s our mission in Louisiana to develop best practices from scratch.”
A number of organizations will present their own studies to the legislature to help shape future policy when session begins in April.