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Professor leads first official reporting of human trafficking problem in New Orleans

March 21, 2014

A first-ever report on human trafficking in the New Orleans metro area released today by Loyola University New Orleans sheds light on the problem, highlighting indicators that suggest sex trafficking and forced labor are significant concerns for the area. While New Orleans has rapidly increased its legal, law enforcement and service provider capacity to address human trafficking in the last five years, obstacles stand in the way of effectively assisting victims, according to the report.

The Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola, with the support of the New Orleans Human Trafficking Work Group, released “The Louisiana Human Trafficking Report,” authored by Loyola professor Laura Murphy, Ph.D., who leads the research project and the work group, and alumnus Brian Ea ’12.

For nine months, Murphy and other researchers turned to survivors, service providers, social workers, journalists, law enforcement, and local and state officials to uncover the pressing issues of human trafficking in the last 10 years, including the area’s preponderance of sexual entertainment services, barriers for victims to report the crimes, high rates of poverty and youth homelessness.

In the first six months of 2013 alone, a hotline run by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 227 reports from Louisiana, approximately the same number received in all of 2012. Among the likely human trafficking cases gleaned from those hotline calls, at least half involved minors. Sixty-eight percent were sex trafficking related, while at least 16 percent were cases of labor trafficking.

But those statistics only uncover the tip of the iceberg, according to Murphy. Those statistics capture only a fraction of the cases—only those cases identified by a citizen and then reported to law enforcement or through other official channels such as the hotline.

“Understanding human trafficking in the United States is incredibly difficult because exploited laborers tend to be a hidden population. The Modern Slavery Research project is dedicated to producing thoughtful, data-driven, community-based research that can better inform our community’s approach to this issue,” she said. “This report is only the beginning of the research we need to do to uncover the prevalence and scope of trafficking in Louisiana.”

Murphy, on a mission to help combat human trafficking in the Crescent City, hopes that the report will be used as ammunition to fuel ongoing efforts to address both sex and labor trafficking. In that realm, the report points to several recommendations that aim to improve awareness and response to trafficking, including:

  • Establish a dedicated human trafficking legal court in New Orleans;
  • Vacate criminal records for all crimes committed by adults that are determined to be a result of labor or sex trafficking victimization;
  • Pursue appropriate cases as human trafficking instead of the Fair Labor Standards Act or, in the cases of sex trafficking, pandering or inciting prostitution;
  • Focus on arrest of traffickers instead of sex workers;
  • Increase training to health care professionals on identifying victims of trafficking;
  • Expand access to self-esteem, harm-reduction and anti-trafficking curricula for youth; and
  • Create a high school anti-human trafficking curriculum with sustainable dissemination model.

The report was funded by a $3,000 community-based research grant from the Office of Community Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship at Loyola. Murphy and undergraduate student researchers working on the report include Ea, now an alumnus, and seniors Saramaile Tate and Lauren Cutuli.

Please contact Mikel Pak, associate director of public affairs, for media interviews at 504-861-5448.

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