On Sept. 16, Gov. John Bel Edwards commended first lady Donna Edwards and the Louisiana First Foundation for convening its first virtual global summit to address human trafficking and raise awareness about this horrific crime.

Recently, Donna Edwards brought together leaders from the Vatican, first spouses from across the United States, and a host of national and state leaders in the anti-human trafficking sector for the Virtual Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Summit.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work Donna is doing to raise awareness about this incredibly serious problem,” Gov. Edwards said. “In Louisiana, we have some of the toughest laws on the books when it comes to punishing the perpetrators while also working to help the survivors regain and rebuild their lives. We have held regional and statewide symposiums and summits, helped start a safe home for the victims, have been awarded a $1.2 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime to address human trafficking among juveniles. Strides are being made but there is still important work to do and this is another important step in the effort to end this crime in Louisiana, around the country and the world.”

Participants included Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Science and Pontifical Academy of Social Science in Rome; first lady Yumi Hogan, of Maryland; first lady Marty Kemp, of Georgia; first lady Cecilia Abbott, of Texas; Deputy Director Bill Woolf, of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime; Department of Children and Family Service Secretary Marketa Walters; former Commissioner of The Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Juana Lombard; Office of the Governor Children’s Cabinet Executive Director Dr. Dana Hunter; Jessica Milan-Miller, director of Gingerbread House Child Advocacy Center; and the Rev. Jeff Bayhi, Catholic priest and founder of Metanoia Manor, which is a safe-haven for victims of human trafficking.

Each shared compelling presentations that included expert knowledge and information on anti-human trafficking initiatives and best practices implemented in Louisiana. In addition, a survivor of human trafficking shared details of her human trafficking encounter and the importance of using her voice to advocate for other survivors.

“Human trafficking is a very real problem that is widespread, and sadly, it happens more often than we would like to think and often very close to home," Donna Edwards said. “I implore everyone not to turn a blind eye from this insidious crime but to learn more about how to recognize the signs and potentially save a victim’s life. If we all do our part to chip away at the issues below the surface that make our children and even adults so vulnerable, together we can bring about an avalanche of change.”