Human trafficking on national, regional forefront
In just the course of the past few weeks, the arrests of two Acadiana women as well as the FBI’s Operation Cross Country arrests, which resulted in the arrests of 159 “pimps” and the recovery of 105 children nationwide, have brought the issue of human trafficking to the attention of area residents. In Lousiana, the FBI’s raid resulted in the arrests of 76 people on sex trafficking related charges and the recovery of six children. One of the people who was arrested, Rita May Trahan, 26, is from Elton.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere, and the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”
While the “criminals who profit” comprised the majority of those arrested on Monday, it was a staggering number of children, the youngest being 9 years old, that were rescued troubling those who watched the news on Monday.
According to the FBI statement, most of these children were either runaways or foster children.
“Most of these children didn’t have people who were actively seeking them,” said Hosko during his press conference.
The most vulnerable of the children who find themselves trapped in the sex trade are from the 13- to 16-year-old age range. The people they will eventually succumb to will approach them and ask them if they “are looking to make some money.” Eventually, they find themselves “numbed” to their situation and find themselves completely dependent on their pimps, who often use drugs, physical and torture to control their victims.
One girl freed in an earlier operation, identified only as Alex in an interview posted on the FBI’s website, was 15 when she left a difficult home situation, and 16 when she turned to prostitution.
“At first it was terrifying, and then you just kind of become numb to it,” she said of her experience on the streets. “You put on a whole different attitude - like a different person. It wasn’t me. I know that. Nothing about it was me.”
Major Keith Latiola, with the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that Acadia Parish hasn’t had any problems with any residents being involved in any human trafficking operations. He did have a booklet from the FBI, which was sent to law enforcement officials around the country, which detailed the problem.
“Worldwide, it’s estimated that $37 billion a year is spent on the illegal sex trade,” said Latiola. “Most of the people that fall victim to it are poor and uneducated. These guys will promise them the world and take them to places like the United States or Western Europe that are much more affluent and there is more money to be made.”
According to Acadia Parish resident Richard Newman, however, it is possible that people who deal in human trafficking may be those you would never suspect. Newman was part of a group that went to New Orleans ahead of this past year’s Super Bowl to rescue youths who are caught up in the sex trade. Sadly, many large sporting events that draw thousands of people to an area have also become a money-maker for those in the sex trade. Newman was asked if anything about his trip caught him completely by surprise.
“I was amazed at how much of this takes place completely out in the open and we don’t even know about it,” he said. “It could literally be your neighbors in Crowley or Eunice...everyday people, and we would never suspect it.”
Newman was also asked about the website “Backpage,” which led to the arrest of many of those who were picked up this past weekend. The site, which has many legitimate business offers, has a heading called escorts which takes people to a list of people in the area that provide sexual services. It is on this site that many underage victims of child trafficking were located.
“I wasn’t involved in that aspect of our operation but we had people that looked into [computer solicitation],” he said. “They said that there are certain keywords in these ads that let pedophiles know that these people are underage.”
Newman said that he was impressed with the scope of the FBI’s raid.
“I thought it was great how far-reaching their operation went,” he said. “What they are doing is just breaking down the network and finding out how extensive it is.”
Not all people arrested for human trafficking are part of some worldwide criminal network. As was evidenced by the arrest of two Lafayette area women, Lorrie Anderson and Katherine Vidrine, these people can simply be those who use a young child for personal monetary gain or by crossing a local, parish or state border with a child for sexual purposes.
Lorrie Anderson was arrested at her Lafayette home on July 24. She is also charged with human trafficking, aggravated incest and aggravated rape. State Police detectives received a complaint about that she allegedly had sex with more than one child relative. Troopers say their investigation uncovered that Anderson brought the child to a location in Lafayette Parish to have sex for money on more than one occasion.
Katherine Vidrine allegedly profited by bringing a juvenile to several homes for sexual encounters with men. The juvenile, who was under the age of 12, was molested by several men including, allegedly, a 52-year-old man who was charged with molestation of a juvenile, indecent behavior with a juvenile, pornography involving juveniles and possession of marijuana. The juvenile claimed that Vidrine was present during some of her encounters.
Trooper Steven Hammons with the State Police gave an interview after Vidrine’s arrest.
“The one good thing out of this case is that the child is safe now,” he said. “The child will no longer be victimized. That’s such a terrible crime. This is the one thing that you can look at and say, at least we were able to rescue you,”