On episode 17 of the Red X Podcast, Leann McCallum, coordinator for the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force shares how the city is combatting trafficking. In the news, New Orleans’s crackdown on the adult entertainment industry is met with resistance.
The producer of the Red X, Mayor of Apex, NC, Lance Olive handed out “electrons” to the children at the lighting of the Christmas tree. Nicole, Director of Shield North Carolina tells how she performed in the 1996 sugar bowl halftime entertainment with her cheerleading squad.
Earlier this year in New Orleans, adult entertainment workers and supporters took to the streets to protest the city’s recent crackdown on the industry. Recently, eight of 13 strip clubs around Bourbon Street had liquor licenses taken away for violations including prostitution and drug dealing discovered on undercover operations. Three of the clubs have permanently closed.
Additionally, a new law now requires strippers to be at least 21 years of age thus further shrinking the adult entertainment businesses. Former mayor Landrieu attempted to pass an ordinance requiring bars and any establishment that sold liquor to install cameras to face the street and for the footage to feed into a central monitoring system. This was originally proposed to deter crime, including human trafficking. However, the mayor received such strong opposition that the ordinance was dropped.
New Orleans is known by its famous motto, “Laisser les bon temps rouler”. Bourbon street in particular has been known for its adult shops and entertainment. As a city, not everyone is convinced that New Orleans should be cleaned up. Some claim that the adult entertainment industry is one way for women to earn money and that shutting down establishments could leave those women with few other options except prostitution. Others insist that these adult entertainment establishments breed illegal activity that result in women being trafficked, abused and exploited.
Lance starts the interview with an icebreaker asking Leeann about her understanding of zydeco music.
Leeann originally worked at a human trafficking center for two years during masters program. She is interested in collaboration and system response to HT. Leann’s boyfriend’s dad found the job in NOLA and she has now been in the coordinator role for the HT task force for about a year and a half.
New Orleans has some unique qualities. LA is a state with a lot of poverty has historical roots in racism and vulnerable populations that contributes to trafficking. There’s a lot of cross generational trafficking in the NOLA area. Also there’s a thriving sex industry that’s been going on since the 1800’s.
Generally, cross generational trafficking tends to be sex trafficking in NOLA. Recently a case in which there was a young woman with autism who had been trafficked by her family was highlighted in the news. They were forcing her to clean, give up public benefits and were attempting to sell her for sexual services. There are intersections of domestic servitude and sex trafficking. It was one of the worst cases that the US attorney had seen. She had to use her own toothbrush to clean the bathroom. Some of her traffickers got a plea deal and some are awaiting trial.
There are tensions between strong catholic influences juxtaposed to the “Big Easy”. Because there is a culture of having an open sex industry there are absolutely people who are engaged in the work who want to be doing it but there are also people who are involved in it because they don’t have other options; there are some who are truly forced.
Some people like to see sex work as black and white. But it takes time to determine if someone is really experiencing force, fraud, or coercion. Louisiana has changed the law to 21 for someone to be considered a trafficking victim if they are engaged in sex work. Law enforcement can determine if there is force, fraud, or coercion. That doesn’t mean that every 20 year old is going to be deemed a trafficking victim, but this law allows law enforcement to use their own discernment.
Most trafficking survivors do not identify as a victim. Getting someone to accept that they might have been exploited may require them to be in a safe and stable place before they disclose.
How is law enforcement trained? Louisiana has Department of Justice funding so they can bring in some really in depth training. State troopers have an online training; State police are required to do annual online training. Local departments can decide on their own training.
There is one prostitution diversion court. The Orleans Parrish is rolling out a court for juveniles if they are suspected to be at risk of being trafficked, which will include both sex and labor trafficking. A lot of youth are forced into criminal activity. If they don’t make enough money their pimp may be forcing them to go steal the money. Some criminal activity is not the survivor’s fault. Panhandling, stealing, selling drugs, all can be labor trafficking.
There are some parallels between the experience of child soldiers and those forced into labor trafficking. Labor trafficking can start within a family unit—may not see themselves as victims but as contributors to the family. Leeann says we need to reframe how we see forced criminal activity. At a certain point it may become normalized for families. Leeann hopes that the empathy we have for child soldiers can be extended to children in the US who are forced to commit crimes.
Generally gang activity is very localized in NOLA. Gangs can be considered a family unit. There is a hierarchy in gangs and strong leadership with clear ways to move up through the gang.
The Greater NOLA Human Trafficking Task Force involves law enforcement, Covenant House, the US Attorneys office, Homeland Security and FBI. Law enforcement’s goals are arrest offenders. Service providers are there to rehabilitate. There can be tension between different stakeholders as they each have a different perspectives. A coalition creates a space to be more supportive of each other. For example, law enforcement goes in with a victim advocate. There are currently 65 different partners that represent to different sectors.
If the city is coming into a season when there’s going to be an increase in HT, the task force can work together to prepare. Because New Orleans is in a warm climate, many homeless people from the north will move to the area during the cold weather months. This population can be at risk of being trafficked.14-15% of homeless youth had experienced trafficking.
Other cities who want to get a more coordinated response can bring together a wide variety of providers serving vulnerable populations to come together to begin a conversation. When you get people from different perspectives and begin conversations together, certain themes start to emerge. You have to acknowledge that you need different people at the table. Being open to all the ways that trafficking manifests helps better identifies the clients.
For NOLA, the task force began after hurricane Catrina after the US attorney office coordinated a round table. Catholic charities, local law enforcement, covenant house all sat down together and started to notice the overlaps in the people they serve. In 2015, the task force received federal funding to create the official Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force. For anyone who would like to bring a similar response to their community, Leeann says it can be as simple as inviting the right service providers to start a conversation.