“Nobody asked me if I wanted the abortion. It was one thing to be forced to have sex, but when I was forced to kill my baby, I wanted to die, too,” Jane said.
Jane’s story is not uncommon. The sexual exploitation of persons under the age of 18 is becoming more and more common, even here at home. Cindy Collins, director of Pregnancy Help Slidell who also works with trafficked girls and women, said this generation is at risk.
“Traffickers make more money selling a person because they can sell her multiple times over a course of years. With drug trafficking, the drugs are sold one time,” Collins said.
“Children are vulnerable due to age and culture, social media, internet access of traffickers, gangs, girls aging out of the foster care system, runaways, many reasons. This is a generation at risk for predatory relationships, trafficking, and forced abortion. We are seeing the evidence in the stories we hear and the young women we help.”
According to non-government U.S. sources, the average age of sex trafficking victims is 11 to 14 years old.
Collins said trafficked girls and women are often forced to have sex with five to 35 men a day, and many have experienced multiple pregnancies, which can result in multiple abortions, often ordered by their traffickers.
Dr. Laura Lederer, a former senior advisor on Human Trafficking at the U.S. Department of State, published a study in 2014 that surveyed 107 sex trafficking victims. The study found 55 percent of participants reported having at least one abortion, 30 percent reported multiple abortions and one female reported having 17 abortions.
“That is a deep trauma, not only the abortion experience, but the deep feeling of regret because this is a life she never intended to live, and now it’s taken the life of herself and her child, a second victim,” she said following release of the study’s findings.
Louisiana lawmakers recognized the seriousness of forced abortions in the sex-trafficking trade in 2011 when the body passed HB 636, better known as the “Signs of Hope Act.” This law requires a “Forced Abortion Prevention Sign” to be posted in every Louisiana abortion facility and also created the Louisiana Woman’s Right to Know website, further enhancing the state’s Woman’s Right to Know law, enacted in 1995.
The Louisiana Children’s Code also requires that non-emancipated minors have parental consent in order to get an abortion, but traffickers have had no trouble skirting that law.
Jane’s “boyfriend” didn’t have a problem seeing to it that her baby was killed by abortion. Neither did the trafficker of another young woman helped by Collins’ agency.
“A ‘friend’ of the boyfriend was going to take her to the abortion facility and act as the legal guardian,” Collins recounted.
“(Traffickers or others) will pose as parents or legal guardians, and because the law has not been strict enough and the possibility of forced prostitution has been overlooked or misunderstood, the girl does not receive help,” Collins said. “Also, she’s been told if she does not abort she will lose her life. We’ve also been told by those we’ve helped that abortion facilities did not counsel them or help them.”
The Louisiana Legislature addressed this problem this year, passing the Screening for Exploitation of Minors Before Abortion Act. Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton) authored the legislation that strengthens the law already in effect, requiring proof of
identification from parents who give parental consent and requiring court-ordered counseling if it is suspected that the minor is a victim of criminal sexual exploitation.
Louisiana Right to Life played a key role in conceptualizing the legislation and lobbied the bill throughout the process in both the Senate and House. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 12 and took effect Aug. 1.
“The system has been abused. It wasn’t always a parent providing the signature. Now, with a photo ID, you can make sure it’s a parent; there is a trail to follow,” Mizell said.
The bill also enhances the judicial bypass proceedings for emancipated teens or girls who can’t provide parental permission. It gives the judge the ability to provide counseling and/or a Court Appointed Special Advocate and determine if the young woman is mature, informed, and attempting to get an abortion of her own free will or if there are other issues at play and the young woman has been victimized.
“This gives the judge the ability to find out if the girl is in need of a protective order,” said Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, which consulted on the legislation.
Collins is hopeful the new law will make a difference.