Mar 152018
 
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Covington clinical psychologist Dr. Raphael Salcedo and his wife Beth don’t have much free time on their hands. They spend day and night working with girls at the state-licensed Free Indeed Home where victims of child sex trafficking come to rebuild their lives. As founders of the Louisiana Coalition Against Human Trafficking (LCAHT), the Salcedos created a state-wide advocacy program that provides information and referrals as well as training for local social service providers including police and social workers.

Three years ago they put together enough funding to open the Free Indeed Home and have served 100 underage children. A two-story facility located in St. Tammany Parish, the Free Indeed Home is the only licensed therapeutic group home for teenage trafficking victims in Louisiana. It can serve 10 children simultaneously. Victims benefit from the comprehensive wrap-around services including self-help classes and in-home psychiatric care that the Freed Indeed Home provides.

Almost 50 percent of human trafficking incidents investigated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2008 to 2010 involved the sexual exploitation of young children. “Pimps can be found on every main street corner in America. They make the girls feel special and serve as both a daddy and a lover.”

Minors who wander around the French Quarter and Canal Street are especially vulnerable. “Every state is a hotbed of child sex trafficking,” said Beth Salcedo. “Louisiana set itself apart because of our tourist trade, Mardi Gras, the French Quarter and the many things that bring people to New Orleans.” Salcedo also believes that the Port of New Orleans and the number of state and federal highways that pass through the region draw young girls – often runaways – and the men who coerce them into prostitution.

The Louisiana Department of Family and Child Services is their primary referral agency but Salcedo also works with children recommended by law enforcement agencies and the court system. Many of these girls escaped from the foster care system and were sexually abused as young children. “Their self-worth was taken away and the girls don’t think they are doing anything wrong,” she said. Though the pimp demands all the girls’ money, he also provides little luxuries for them like new clothes, manicures and perfume – things that they might not have had access to previously.

Intense therapy, re-education, awareness and rehabilitation are necessary to turn their lives around. The Salcedos and their trained staff of counselors and social workers must first gain their clients’ trust and then gradually teach them a new way of life. Making that adjustment is a struggle for some girls who want nothing more than to return to their pimp. “We have girls who want to run away and take another of the girls with them. It’s a tough situation,” explained Salcedo.

Most of the Free Indeed Home’s funding comes through Medicare, though the Salcedo’s nonprofit does accept private donations and counts organizations like the Exchange Club of St. Tammany as a big supporter. “Many donors believe in our cause but are not comfortable giving to our organization. It is always a struggle to have enough money to fund the wraparound services these girls need,” Salcedo continued.

In 2015, Louisiana passed some of the strongest sex trafficking laws in the U.S. Yet there is a lack of state funding for programs that adequately address trafficking, safety, refuge and healing. “The need is great. Our clients are very broken children. They come from a world where there are no boundaries. We only wish we could serve more children,” Salcedo said. A seven-minute video on The Free Indeed Home was produced by Charles Marsala and is available on You Tube’s Awe News.

CIVIL DISTRICT COURT CANDIDATES COMPETE FOR TURNOUT

All New Orleans political junkies know that in Orleans Parish there are more African-American voters than white voters and that there are more African-American chronic voters as well. More often than not, that dynamic leads to African-American candidates winning city-wide elections, especially judicial elections. There are a few exceptions – most recently the re-election of CDC Judge Chris Bruno.

The current CDC race to replace Judge Tiffany Chase who moved to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has two African-American candidates – Clerk of First City Court Elllen Hazeur and lawyer and family advocate Taetrece Harrison – and Richard Perque, who is a white, openly gay candidate. Perque is looking to be the exception to the rule. He has garnered endorsements from several elected officials who could be extremely beneficial to him including incoming Councilmember-at-large Helena Moreno and District A Councilmember Susan Guidry who is well-respected throughout her district. Guidry is even hosting an event for Perque next week.

Though the endorsements have been almost evenly split, Hazeur has benefitted from a large media buy and numerous billboards around the city which should put her ahead in early voting. UNO pollster Ed Chervenak says it is hard to poll judicial races because voters are not necessarily paying attention and often vote for the candidate with greater name recognition. As an elected official, Hazeur gets extra points in that category too. Weather can also be a factor. Too much rain or too many festivals (Hogs for a Cause is next weekend) can also depress voter turnout.

With nine days to go before the election, look for Perque to pull out all the stops to bring out his voters and whittle down the turnout differential. Look for Hazeur to take full advantage of a well-planned and executed get-out-the-vote effort to carry her over the top.

DUPLESSIS RECEIVES FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURS

Well-known African-American entrepreneurs Jim Thorns and Kathy Felton are hosting Royce Duplessis at their Esplanade Avenue home this evening, the site of many successful fundraisers including one for Gov. John Bel Edwards during his last campaign. Tonight’s audience will include the city’s African-American business and political elite as well as supporters of Xavier Prep where Felton graduated. The fundraiser begins at 5:30 p.m.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.

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