(WAFB) - A new report on human trafficking, trafficking for children for sexual purposes, and commercial sexual exploitation for 2017 shows a 25 percent increase in the number of victims over last year.
In 2016, 447 victims were reported, and in 2015, 357 victims were reported.
According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), nearly half of the victims were children, and 20 of these were age 12 or younger.
"I think there's two things going on. One is I think people, especially professionals, are getting better at identifying. There's been a lot of information put out about better identification and recognition of victims. I think also an impact in electronic solicitation. I think that's also a factor, especially for juveniles. It's becoming a bigger and bigger issue for them," said child welfare consultant, Walter Fahr.
Fahr says traffickers are getting better at identifying vulnerability and more sophisticated when it comes to targeting victims, so parents should closely monitor electronics. "The more accomplished ones can go to a mall and start identifying which juveniles or even young adults they think seem to be a little isolated and will develop some kind of rapport with them," said Fahr.
DCFS released its first report on human trafficking in 2015, which included data from 2014. All reports released since 2015 are available here.
"This report is undeniable evidence human trafficking exists, and it's a significant threat to our children and young people. In fact, with these reports, we believe we're just scratching the surface," said DCFS secretary, Marketa Garner Walters.
For this new report, only 17 of 59 Louisiana human trafficking providers supplied data, but DCFS hopes more will contribute in the future.
"By increasing coordination between law enforcement, service providers, and others, we can work together in every part of the state to fight human trafficking, identify victims, and get them the resources they need," said Walters.
Some findings in the new report include:
- Caddo and Orleans Parishes were the two most frequently identified parishes for trafficking and parish or origin
- Data for East Baton Rouge Parish was impacted in the 2017 report because the major provider, HP-Serve, lost a significant amount of its records in the 2016 August flooding
- 90 percent of victims were female, while 8 percent were male and 2 percent were transgender
- The age range for sexual trafficking victims was 2 - 55
DCFS is working to develop better screening tools, as well as training staff to better identify victims and understand how to work with them. DCFS has partnered with Louisiana State Police, the courts, and service providers to develop a better response to human trafficking. Earlier this year, DCFS implemented a prevention curriculum that addresses human trafficking and risk factors among young people in foster care.
"This year's human trafficking report reveals the extent to which some people will go to victimize children and young adults. Metanoia will be a refuge. I'm honored to have played a part in bringing it to light," said Sen. Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles, who sponsored several pieces of legislation to fight human trafficking, including a measure to establish the safe house, Metanoia.
Fahr says family members should be mindful of isolated behavior and any unexplained purchases, such as a new cell phone, which could be a red flag for something bigger going on.