Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. was among a throng of local law, social services, educational and elected officials pledging to combat human trafficking in a ceremony early Friday, January 17, 2020.
Braving blustery cold outside the Caddo Parish Juvenile Justice Complex, the officials officially proclaimed National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
“Human trafficking is slavery,” DA Stewart said, summarizing the definition, which includes the sexual exploitation of others. “Modern-day slavery.”
In its official declaration of the month, the White House stated that “human trafficking erodes personal dignity and destroys the moral fabric of society. It is an affront to humanity that tragically reaches all parts of the world, including communities across our nation.” The White House estimated that almost 25 million people of all ages are victims of human trafficking, in the United States and across the world.
DA Stewart noted that human trafficking victims are more frequently identified in Orleans, Caddo and East Baton Rouge parishes.
“In Caddo the numbers are higher than any other parish in the state of Louisiana,” he said.
He noted that the governor and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana have separately formed forums and task forces to deal with the issue of human trafficking and that the parish has several avenues to help human trafficking victims.
“In District Court, any woman charged with prostitution can enter into our pretrial diversion for prostitution called Exit Strategy,” he said. The free program allows these victims to report to faith-based Purchased: Not for Sale, an affiliate of the downtown Hub Ministries, and take part in a 16-week non-residential or 18-month residential program that offers weekly recovery classes, community service and drug screenings that, with court attendance, offers disposition of the cases.
“This is designed to deal with the real victims, the women and men themselves,” DA Stewart said, noting that to date there has been zero recidivism, or a return to prostitution, of graduates of Exit Strategy. He also noted Juvenile Court programs to assist and guide youth who have been identified as at-risk for human-trafficking exploitation.
“We in the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office join with all of our partners to deal with this modern-day problem of slavery,” he said.
Joining DA Stewart in speaking were Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker; Caddo Parish Administrator and CEO Woodrow “Woody” Wilson, Caddo Parish Commission Vice President Mario Chavez, Caddo Parish Juvenile Court Judge Ree Casey-Jones, Gingerbread House Executive Director Jessica Milan Miller, Caddo Parish Juvenile Services Director Clay Walker, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Campbell and FREE Coalition Director and event organizer Laurie McGehee.
The event concluded with a joint proclamation by the mayors and presentation of the annual “Guardian of Childhood Award” to two recipient agencies, the Caddo and Bossier Parish school boards.