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Four years ago, United Way Worldwide began a mission to combat the horrors of human trafficking. A very real threat in Southwest Louisiana, the I10 corridor is a known hotbed for human trafficking.
"All the cities along that corridor is where they move their victims from place to place to keep them disoriented," said Diane Amos, rescuer and Executive Director of Free-Nola.
Recently, a young woman held captive in a New Orleans hotel found her way to escape by remembering only one number, 2-1-1. By dialing the number, the survivor was connected to Free-NOLA, a sex trafficking rescue non-profit based out of New Orleans.
According to Amos, a young woman was left alone without a pimp for a brief period and was able to make the call. Acting quickly, she arranged to meet the woman in a public place. "You don't always have time to sit back and take your time. It's imperative that you just act. You can't just sit back and say I'll do this later."
Within a matter of hours, the agency rescued the victim and began her restoration process. “It's your gut that tells you. If there was a child dying, wouldn't you run in and do it?”
Amos could not give full details on the aftermath of the rescue but said in most cases Free-Nola connects victims with emergency shelter, food and works on getting them more long-term housing as they work through their experience. "The safe house is so important because homeless shelters are not equipped to deal with this specific population of people," she said.
This was not Free-NOLA’s first response via 2-1-1, Amos said. Often individuals use 2-1-1 instead of 9-1-1 because they do not want law enforcement involved in their rescue.
"The perception is that they'll arrest you and throw you in jail. There's a barrier there," she explained.
Free-Nola is actively involved in educating law enforcement to help change the culture and often stigma surrounding sex trafficking victims. "We're trying to educate law enforcement, that these women, and boys and girls, they're victims, not perpetrators."
Do you have a 2-1-1 story to share? Submit it here: https://unitedwayswla.org/Story