BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - According to Shared Hope International, Baton Rouge is among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for human trafficking. In 2006, the group estimated there were 100 victims of domestic sex trafficking in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans area under 18 years old. That same year, the Baton Rouge shelter, Youth Oasis, reported 57% of its visitors were victims of sexual abuse. Records by the Office of Community show 35 confirmed cases in Louisiana where a parent was directly involved of the prostitution of their child.
When most people think of human trafficking, they think of foreigners who are promised a better life but then sold into sex slavery. However, trafficking has many faces and one woman who is now in her 40s shared her story of abuse. Donna Frank has a steady job and a good group of friends to support her, but she wasn't always this person. She grew up in a small town in Canada and what she thought was a normal childhood was actually far from it. She said she was sexually abused by her father and he allowed others to abuse her as well.
"For the first time in my life, I realized, something bigger than my pain existed," Frank said. "I don't remember not being abused. I was just almost incapacitated by fear. My next door neighbor, we didn't have intercourse, but he would touch me or he would have me touch him. My father told me it was part of growing up. One day when I was 3, 4, or 5, I was laying on the carpet, trying to color inside the lines and my dad came and got me and took me upstairs."
Frank noted she still cannot stand the smell or sight of crayons. Before the interview, she was asked if she wanted her identity hidden. Frank stated she needed her identity protected 35 years ago when she was a victim, but she isn't a victim anymore. Although Frank doesn't classify her ordeal as human trafficking, Katherine Green, a member of an organization called Trafficking Hope, said Frank's story is similar to that of too many young people.
"There is no quick fix," said Green. "It's just being there for the victim and letting them know we're here. We're talking about children in South Downs, in elementary schools. You're looking at children who are 9 and 10 years old being bought and sold."
Human trafficking is a modern day crime that doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, gender or age. Trafficking Hope reaches out to victims on street corners, at truck stops and in strip clubs. Social networking sites and cell phones serve as tools of human trafficking. Green explained how it could start with something as simple as a boy recording an intimate moment with his girlfriend.
"If you don't have sex with anybody I tell you to, over this weekend, then this video is going to be out there for everyone to see," Green stated as an example.
U.S. Attorney David Dugas said he was shocked at how common human trafficking is. His office is working with Louisiana organizations to try to put a stop to sex crimes. He said stopping these types of crimes will take understanding and sensitivity from law enforcement officers who often come in contact with its victims on the streets.
"One of the things we've been stressing with law enforcement in training is to understand what is their situation and look beyond the obvious," he explained.
Trafficking Hope believes housing is key in helping victims transform their lives. It tries to help the young victims, but its resources are limited. Green noted there are only 44 beds in the U.S. for victims of sexual trafficking and those victims must be under the age of 18 to qualify for assistance. None of the beds are in Baton Rouge.
Frank now acts as a role model for other victims. She said she has helped women regain their lives while working at a home in St. Louis for victims. She believes once a community unites in the fight against human trafficking, the predators will begin to back down. She added every person can do something to stop human trafficking in Baton Rouge.
For more on how you can help Trafficking Hope reach its goals, call 1-888-373-7888.