BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards, advocates, and members of the Vatican are joining forces to fight back against human trafficking.
"This is a problem across the world and it is of proportions that most people can only imagine," said Edwards. "We shouldn't try to slow it down and we shouldn't try to just make it better. We need to have a real goal to eradicate it because it is a scourge on, really, on mankind."
An international summit to do just that kicks off Tuesday in Zachary and will focus on potential legislation, cyber security methods, and other efforts aimed at preventing the practice.
Kelly Dore, executive director of the National Human Trafficking Survivor Coalition, is in town from Colorado. She says the effort is vital. "It's imperative that we educate and we bring awareness not only to our general population, but also to our legislators," said Dore. "They're the ones who are making laws and they're the ones that are dealing with issues."
Louisiana Senator Ronnie Johns from Sulphur is one of the champions against human trafficking in the legislature. One of his most recent successes includes creating a special division within the governor's office dedicated to putting new laws on the books to stamp out the crime.
"It's the most horrible form of slavery that we've seen. It is just a real tragedy," said Johns. "Everybody wants to say, 'Well that happens in somebody else's backyard.' Well it's not. It happens in our backyard and it's going to be our intent to come back next year with recommendations within the legislature on what we can do to combat it."
According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), reports of human trafficking cases statewide are still climbing. With 681 cases reported last year, numbers up 52 percent from 2016. Even with measures already in place, some members of the religious community, like Father Jeff Bayhi, say more needs to be done.
"We continuously look for new ways to protect children by law," said Bayhi.
Rescuing children trapped in sex work, he says, is something everyone should be invested in. "You can't remain indifferent. You just can't," said Bayhi. "You've got to do something and everyone has a role to play in that rescue."