BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Last year, over 400 people in Louisiana were victims of human trafficking. According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), 200 of them were children.
Governor John Bel Edwards and the governor's office Human Trafficking Prevention Commission are hosting a series of regional summits to highlight the services available and the community response to trafficking victims. The first took place at the BRCC in Baton Rouge.
The people who attended were called on by the governor to help make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people in Louisiana who are sold for sex. One of the women at the table was Michelle, who says she was trafficked ten years ago. She recalls the night she walked away from her pimp.
"I said, 'I'm leaving now,' and he started to beat me. I didn't care because the night before I told one of the girls that I was leaving walking or in a body bag," Michelle said.
Michelle says U.S. marshals working a sting operation at the hotel came to her rescue. Her pimp, Carlos Lampley, was sentenced last week to 40 years in prison. Michelle is finally free, but she says the road to recovery was a long one and was filled with many challenges.
"After being trafficked you need counseling, you need housing, because when you get out of the life you have nothing. It's just you. Everything belonged to the trafficker," Michelle said.
Michelle is now part of a very important discussion state agencies are having about resources that are and are not yet available to trafficking victims. The executive director of the governor's Children's Cabinet, Dr. Dana Hunter, says to offer the proper assistance, the state first needs to listen to victims to get a better understanding of what life is truly like on the streets.
"It's very important that we tackle this problem from a childlike standpoint, that we understand that we don't know everything there is to know about human trafficking. We don't know what the victims go through. We don't know the situation, the background, and the circumstances they come out of," Hunter said.
Dr. Hunter says the ideas shared at the summit will be used to come up with a strategic plan for Louisiana's war on human trafficking. It's a tough battle, but it's one Michelle says is worth fighting for. "We are not just prostitutes. We are victims of human trafficking and eventually you will become a survivor," Michelle said.
The Baton Rouge summit was the first in series of nine scheduled across the state. The next one happens in Alexandria on Thursday, November 30.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll free at 888-373-7888.