BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana has gone from topping the charts nationally for human trafficking cases to ranking among the best in the country for our response to the problem. A trip to Rome is planned, and will hopefully bring more help to the state for the underage victims.
From the Superdome to Bourbon Street and the cuisine and culture only Louisiana can offer, the Bayou State sure knows how to put on a party. But all the festivals, sporting events and beats and colors fuel a very dark lifestyle in Louisiana.
"It's just a mecca for bringing people in and out," said Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson.
Edmonson says legislation passed at the Capitol has helped law enforcement get better training on how to better investigate human trafficking cases, instances where people are forced into the sex trade.
In fact, State Police started a special crimes unit that focused specially on sex exploitation. In the past four years, the number of arrests have declined. In 2010, there were 100 arrests. In 2011, 81 arrests; in 2012, 66 arrests; in 2013, 26 arrests.
State Police have now added human trafficking as a priority to the unit. Starting last year, they began keeping statistics on the number of arrests. Last year there were 11 arrests. So far this year, there have been eight.
Now State Police have a new, committed ally; the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and Father Jeff Bayhi.
Father Bayhi heads to Rome next week to meet with Pope Francis, bishops and nuns on how Louisiana can help rescue human trafficking victims.
"There are over 40 million human slaves, which means there's more human slavery today than in the 400 years in the African slave trade, and about 90 percent of that is in the sex trade. And about 90 percent of that is young girls in the sex trade - starting the age of 12," said Father Bayhi.
Among the church's plans is to build a safe house in Baton Rouge for underage victims of human trafficking from the area.
"We're trying to recreate a person here," said Bayhi. "These kids have been so traumatized that you know, we're just trying to deal with making them human again."