After completing undergraduate studies at LSU in 2007, Natalie LaBorde made a life-changing detour. She took a year off to work for a nonprofit organization in Sydney, Australia. There, at a rally, she and a co-worker came face to face with people who were working to eliminate the tragedy of human trafficking.
According to the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, “human trafficking has occurred if a person was induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud or coercion. Any person younger than 18 who performs a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was present.”
LaBorde was overwhelmed by what she heard at the rally. “Our boss ended up sending us around the world to see what other organizations were doing to eliminate human trafficking,” she said.
Although the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimates that about 2.5 million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of trafficking, LaBorde says that the general consensus is that the actual number is as high as 27 million.
In her world travels that year, LaBorde saw conditions she never imagined could exist. “The first time I ever met a human trafficking victim was in Cambodia,” she said. “It was an 11-year-old girl with a baby in hand. She was rescued out of a brothel. She was pregnant.”
When LaBorde and her co-worker completed their trip, they returned to Sydney, where with Christine and Nick Caine, the organizers of their fact-finding mission, they put together a proposal to form the A21 Campaign, Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century. The Caines are now directors of the A21 Campaign, an international project.
In 2008, LaBorde returned to LSU to enter law school. “Having been exposed to the magnitude of the problem of human trafficking, I thought there ought to be a way to mobilize the LSU student body,” she said. “There ought to be a way to connect that momentum to the work.”
LaBorde and two friends, Sarah Kaiser and Jeremy Beyt, decided to hold a fundraising event. “Everyone does 5Ks (races), so we said just start with that,” LaBorde said. “We had to name it. We got a website going. People needed a way to register for the race online.” The group decided to call the organization Tigers Against Trafficking.
Tigers Against Trafficking held its first run in March 2009. “We made $10,000 solely on students’ registration,” said LaBorde, who has completed law school and is working as a policy adviser for Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Catherine Cardwell, a sophomore in political science, is vice president of Tigers Against Trafficking. She is involved with the organization’s fifth 5K run, which will be held Saturday.
Her interest in human trafficking began in the ninth grade, when she attended a model United Nations program. “It is modern-day slavery,” she said. “The umbrella covers several different types of labor trafficking and sex trafficking.”
Traditionally the definition of human trafficking involved moving people across borders, usually from country to country, but this has expanded over time.
“For some people, they are not moved across country borders. Usually in the U.S., they are moved from city to city,” Cardwell said.
Cardwell gave the example of how an unsuspecting young woman can become the victim of human trafficking. “One really common way in the United States is that a girl will start dating a guy either her age or dramatically older,” she said. “The guy will manipulate her to believe he loves her, and she loves him. Sometimes he will just say ‘if you love me you will do this,’ or he will convince her they should run away together. From there he delivers her to a trafficker, who may bring the girl to other cities and states and force her into prostitution.” The man, who is called a recruiter, is really selling the young woman into prostitution.
Cardwell calls the Super Bowl the U.S. “trafficking event of the year.” “There are millions of people that come in for it,” she said. “They fly in girls from all over the country to work.” Some of these end up as prostitutes.
Last summer, Cardwell worked in a safe house in India through a program with a church in Houston. In India, young girls are often sold for labor in sweatshops or to make bricks. Often they are sold by their own families, she said.
“I met these girls. I got to know these girls,” she said.
In Eastern Europe, young girls are often bribed with nonexistent housekeeping or nanny jobs. “Many times these girls don’t even know where they are,” Cardwell said.
Tigers Against Trafficking continues to grow in its mission to spread awareness of human trafficking and in its fundraising efforts. Most of the money raised goes to international efforts, although last year the organization donated to Trafficking Hope, a locally based organization that recently opened a safe house in Louisiana.
In October, Tigers Against Trafficking hosted KEY2FREE, an informational program on the LSU campus. “Basically we had hundreds of keys donated from all over the area,” Cardwell said. “We put them in big bowls and went into Free Speech Alley and gave them out for people to wear.”
Natalie LaBorde is no longer working in the administration of the organization. “We are involved in a consulting basis,” she said. “We don’t make key decisions now.”
She is proud of the work she did to bring the issue to the LSU campus. “It is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life, connecting students with a real sense of purpose,” she said. “There are so many incredible stories.”