Girls and boys are being sold for sex and labor in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area, according to a local nonprofit group seeking to build a rehabilitation facility to help victims recover from the experience.
Trafficking Hope, a Baton Rouge human-trafficking awareness group, hopes to raise enough money for the facility because there is no facility available for victims in Louisiana, said Laura Messer, executive director of Trafficking Hope.
The group is holding its first major fundraiser, The Faces of Hope Gala and Silent Auction, Saturday at the Manship Theatre.
The group hopes to build the facility in Baton Rouge, Messer said.
People don’t realize how serious the problem is, Messer said.
In the past two years, Messer said, more than 80 victims of human trafficking have been identified in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
“And that’s just scratching the surface,” Messer said.
The average age of sex-trafficking victims is 12 to 13, said Baton Rouge lawyer Katherine Green.
Green is the chairwoman of the Human Trafficking Task Force Coalition for the federal Middle District of Louisiana.
According to a 2008 study on human trafficking by the nonprofit Shared Hope International, a child victim of prostitution was identified in Baton Rouge in August 2008.
The child was 8 years old.
Girls are used for sex via prostitution, stripping and pornography, Green said.
Pimps - or someone else in control - usually abuse the victims physically and emotionally, which can prevent a victim from leaving or just stopping, Green said.
“They will threaten to kill the girl’s parents if she leaves,” Green said.
Victims of human trafficking also can be used for labor, Green said.
People can be forced to work in fields, construction and factories, Green said.
Messer’s group wants to build and operate a facility that would assist victims by providing safe housing, basic needs such as food and clothing, and rehabilitation services, including education, counseling and therapy.
The fundraising event will feature food, a silent auction with thousands of dollars worth of items and a presentation from former human-trafficking victim and author Theresa Flores.
There will be a panel discussion with human-trafficking experts, Messer said.
A new documentary on human trafficking, “Playground,” also will be screened. Its executive producers are Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.
The event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $125 and available online at http://www.manshiptheatre.org or by phone at (225) 344-0334.
For information, visit http://www.traffickinghope.org.