New Louisiana Laws Aim to Crack Down on Human Trafficking
In the eyes of some social-service agencies and law-enforcement officials, Louisiana has proven to be a hub for human trafficking. Young women – some under 18, some a little older — are regularly brought into the state, or recruited from within, and allegedly forced into prostitution by their handlers.
With that in mind, state Rep. Ronnie Johns, a Sulphur Republican, authored a few bills during the spring aimed at addressing the so-called human trafficking problem. Both bills received little or no opposition, and they have since been signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
One bill raises the threshold age for victims when determining penalties in Louisiana human trafficking cases by three years, from 18 to 21. It takes effect Aug. 1.
Johns’ bill also requires people convicted of human trafficking offenses under the provision to register as sex offenders. Anyone convicted of human trafficking crimes under the measure will face prison sentences between 15 and 50 years and could be fined up to $50,000.
In addition, violators of the measure cannot deny knowing victims’ ages as a legal defense, which is usually a provision of Louisiana sex-crime laws.
One reason Johns cited for pushing the bill was the large number of women between 18 to 21 who supposedly were involved in the illegal sex industry in the state.
When an individual is over 18, law enforcement has to be able to prove “force, fraud or coercion” to make an arrest on a human-trafficking charge, which can be a difficult task if that woman has been “brainwashed” by a pimp or trafficker, according to state law-enforcement officials.
Raising the threshold from 18 to 21 would help prosecutions of those trafficking victims within that age range. Law enforcement no longer would have to meet the same burden in proving elements of “force, fraud or coercion” were used.
A related bill authored by Johns bars Louisiana strip clubs from hiring dancers under the age of 21. Edwards recently signed it into law and it also takes effect Aug. 1.
The city of New Orleans already had an ordinance on its books requiring strippers to be 21. The new law makes it a crime throughout the state.
The stripper-age bill is aimed at cutting down on human trafficking. Many women caught up in sex trafficking end up in strip clubs, where paying customers can easily be found, Johns told various media outlets.
While the anti-trafficking laws soon will be in play, social-service and law-enforcement observers say a lack of funding for enforcement – coupled with a general unwillingness for victims to testify against traffickers because they tend to identify more with them then they do police – still create difficulties in the effort to cut down on human trafficking.