When Lee and Laura Domingue traveled to Europe as part of a team to end human trafficking, the Baton Rouge couple did not realize this same atrocity was happening back at home. The couple was greatly moved by what they experienced abroad and were called to action to help.
While the Domingues decided to launch the Trafficking Hope campaign, many friends and family members questioned why they were choosing to focus on this type of work. Amy Wagar, the Director of Trafficking Hope in Alabama, says, “People thought they should focus on animal rescue, or disaster relief; very few people know of the magnitude of trafficking and how many people are affected.”
According to the Department of Children and Family Services, Orleans, Caddo and East Baton Rouge are the three most frequently identified as locations for both adult and juvenile trafficking. As reported in the 2019 report, East Baton Rouge had 59 adult and 47 juvenile victims.
Trafficking Hope was initially launched as an information campaign. The focus was to inform and educate Baton Rouge residents about human trafficking through billboards and radio interviews. During this time, the founders discovered that human trafficking was not actually illegal. “In 2017, the founders of Trafficking Hope helped to pass RS 14:46.2 which made trafficking a crime in Louisiana,” says Wagar.
Through the campaign, the Domingues began to notice an interest in their work was coming from churches. Local churches began contacting them to find out how they could help. Trafficking Hope began to formally partner with local churches and launched the C.A.R.E.S Initiative (Coalition, Awareness, Rescue, Education, Services) which empowers churches to combat trafficking in their areas. Through this, Trafficking Hope has been able to expand outreach and support.
The organization quickly realized the need for housing. After victims are rescued from trafficking, they often do not have the resources for housing, medical, or mental health care. In 2012, the Domingues purchased a 32-acre site of property in Baton Rouge to establish the first Hope House. This residential facility served trafficking victims with a place to live, education opportunities, medical and dental care, legal services, and general rehabilitation services, all free of charge.
Trafficking Hope has rescued over 400 victims since its inception and 17 just this year. They have well over 600 victims identified and ensured over 500 arrests for the crime of trafficking. The initiative has expanded into both Texas and Alabama and internationally to sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to eliminate human trafficking worldwide.
January is Human Trafficking month, and communities can continue to support the efforts through donations. Also, individuals can collaborate with local churches who are participating in the C.A.R.E.S Initiative. Lastly, since the founding members have moved out of the area, according to Wagar, “The local Baton Rouge chapter needs a champion for the cause–they need a local leader!”