MORGAN CITY, La. -- Work to repair damage from hurricanes and oil spills has led to an increase in out-of-town laborers in the area, many of foreign birth, and the St. Mary Community Action Agency has begun a program to help those in the area who are victims of sex and labor trafficking.
The local non-profit organization recently received a reimbursable grant from the Office of Refugee Settlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to Alemtra J. Franklin, CEO of the St. Mary Community Action Agency.
“The office for Refugee Settlement called us because they noticed there was an increase in victims of trafficking for labor and sexual activity in the state of Louisiana,” she said.
“We’re number six in the United States,” which is likely partly due to work done in response to hurricanes and the 2010 BP oil spill, Franklin said.
“For example, somebody might get someone to work for him in Louisiana and offer money, housing and transportation, and when the client gets here, the deal changes,” she said, “and sometimes, it’s through no fault of the person that would be the employer. Maybe the contract that he anticipated gets changed.”
Franklin said that, among other things, the CAA may refer the person to another company for a job.
She said that about 80 percent of cases are of people born outside of the United States.
“The clients that we have had so far have been in St. Mary and Iberia parishes,” she said. “They just may need some assistance navigating through the systems.”
Franklin said that this type of work is new for the St. Mary Parish agency.
“We’re feeling our way through it, but we agree that it would be an opportunity for us to work into another area,” she said.
Franklin said that she has not seen any cases of child trafficking or sex trafficking in the area, but the agency reports that “recent statistics from Shared Hope International show that Baton Rouge is among the top 10 cities in the United States for human trafficking. Louisiana has about 200,000 homeless children, as the state has the highest rate of child homelessness of the 50 states, according to the National Center for Family Homelessness. The Rescue and Restore Coalition of Louisiana states that the youngest confirmed victim of sex trafficking in Baton Rouge is 6 years old.
Franklin said that the agency’s role is to provide service to those victims who have been deemed eligible for services.
“They may need utility assistance, housing, a voucher for medical services,” she said.
More information about CAA can be found at www.stmarycaa.org.