In New Orleans, An Anti-Trafficking Task Force Introduces Best Practices and Partnerships
Earlier this month, the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit strip clubs and other “adult venues” from hiring anyone under the age of 21. The measure, designed to help prevent the trafficking of youth that sometimes occurs at these establishments, marked an early victory for a citywide task force created to stop trafficking and support survivors.
Launched in 2015, the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force seeks to bring together agencies and individuals committed to ending the exploitation of humans for sex or labor. Creating a single forum to address trafficking introduces members to best practices for serving residents, says Coordinator Andrew Lewis, while raising awareness among the city at-large.
“Human trafficking is not new, but [through this task force] we are learning how to better tackle the problem,” he says. “The task force creates an avenue to communicate between partners and get our efforts done in an effective way.”
Keeping Youth Front and Center
Although the task force will address trafficking victims of all ages, young people play an important role in both the group’s origin and ongoing work, says Jim Kelly, executive director of Covenant House New Orleans. The community agency, which provides housing and services for runaway and homeless youth, initiated a collaborative study (PDF, 3.7MB) with nearby Loyola University in 2013, to gauge how many youth residents were also victims of trafficking. The resulting estimate—nearly 90 youth residents per year—compelled Kelly and his colleagues to build the task force to “turn off the spigot” of human trafficking in the community, he says.
According to Lewis, one of the group’s first projects, a universal process for making referrals, also includes youth at its center. Task force members are currently mapping out relevant youth-friendly services throughout the city, he explains, to create a combination “decision tree” and “referral map” for connecting young victims to services.
“We want a consistent, simple process that anyone—law enforcement, service providers, legal services, job placement, and other partners who work with trafficked youth—can use to identify and help victims of trafficking,” he says.
Taking Action Together
The Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force will also go out in the community to educate residents, business owners, and public servants about the signs of trafficking and what to do when it occurs. Many of these visits will focus on places that touch the lives of young people, including churches, schools, police stations, and community agencies with youth programming. The task force also plans to act as a liaison between law enforcement officers who may encounter exploited youth in their daily work and local agencies that offer victim services, Lewis says.
Community support will also play an important role in the task force’s sustainability. A recently awarded grant from the Department of Justice enabled the group to bring on Lewis as its full-time coordinator, but additional public and private investment is needed to address the full scope of trafficking in New Orleans, says Kelly.
As with most task forces, Lewis views partnership as the key to continuing the city’s work to stand up to traffickers and to facilitate the recovery process for youth and adults who have already been victimized. The collaborative efforts already underway will only be stronger, he says, once more allies join the effort. “No one partner can do it all completely,” he adds. “We all have a role.”