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Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series produced after a yearlong investigation of sex trafficking on Bourbon Street. Tulane Avenue and Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans, and Airline Drive in Metairie, have all been at one time or another popular meeting places for prostitutes and their customers. But these days, with its swirl of tipsy tourists alongside scantily clad dancers standing in dingy strip club entrances, Bourbon Street has become an epicenter of the New Orleans sex trade, according to a yearlong investigation by NOLA.
Law enforcement records — some made public for the first time — and interviews with dozens of officials, club representatives, human trafficking experts and trafficking victims reveal how a patchwork of strip clubs featuring private rooms have continued to be plagued by prostitution and drug use. Surrounded by hotels where clients can easily slip away with a prostitute, Bourbon Street has become a playground for pimps — the kingpins of a brutal and sadistic underworld that hides in plain sight. Even when authorities have compiled evidence that pimps on Bourbon are exploiting women, recruiting new sex trafficking victims and more recently using the women to rob customers, the sex trade has continued to fester.
Since the nonprofit Covenant House began tracking sex trafficking cases in earlydozens of women — some younger than 18 — have reported falling victim to trafficking and sexual exploitation in clubs both in Louisiana and out of state.
Of the victims of sex trafficking Covenant House provided services to in that period, 17 have reported using private rooms or a bathroom in French Quarter strip clubs to have sex with customers. A good of French Quarter strip clubs have been cited by law enforcement for prostitution or have employed dancers that sought shelter at Covenant House to escape sex trafficking. While there has been no evidence that clubs knowingly employed dancers who were victims of human trafficking, victim advocates and law enforcement officers say the trafficking opportunity arises from a constant presence of pimps promoting prostitution on Bourbon Street, and in some cases demanding that women under their control use private rooms in clubs for sex.
Three club owners or managers in the French Quarter said that Bourbon Street has contributed to a disturbing and dangerous atmosphere, and that it is a constant struggle to keep pimps looking to recruit dancers out of the clubs. A neon on Bourbon Street. Hundreds of s of documents from the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control shows the agency's enforcement is not at the level experts say it's needed to deter sex trafficking in French Quarter strip clubs. The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the regulatory agency responsible for the "Trick or Treat" probe that exposed prostitution, drug use and illegal touching in eight French Quarter strip clubs, has been unable to fully enforce consent orders or to go after additional tips of misconduct in some clubs, according to its own records.
A review of hundreds of documents provided by the ATC shows the agency has not ramped up enforcement to the degree experts say is needed to deter sex trafficking in strip clubs, even after the agency was told that illegal activity had d at some of the clubs following the sweeps.
Undercover ATC agents made only 10 visits in French Quarter strip clubs in the last 22 months to check for prostitution and sex trafficking, the records showed. There are 13 strip clubs open in the French Quarter, but ATC records showed no evidence of visits at six of them.
Some strip club owners have pushed back hard on the notion that human trafficking occurs inside their clubs, especially in their resistance to a law passed in that barred women age from performing nude. The law is currently being blocked from enforcement as a federal challenge filed by three dancers plays out. But owners and managers of several clubs said they have increased their own enforcement, in some cases adding monitored cameras in private dance rooms and firing dozens of employees suspected of illicit activity inside the clubs.
Speaking in general about activity at the clubs, Attorney Fred Herman, who represents four clubs, said the establishments have actively sought to enforce the rules. Torn s for adult entertainment are seen along Bourbon Street. The proliferation of prostitution activity on Bourbon has alarmed Jim Kelly, executive director of Covenant House, the nonprofit, faith-based shelter for adolescents and young adults.
He believes the lack of enforcement has emboldened pimps and put vulnerable adolescent girls and women at risk. Why have we made so little progress in our understanding that young and vulnerable women are being exploited, bought and sold on Bourbon Street? For victims of human trafficking, being treated like chattel has devastating long-term damage that is difficult to erase. One victim, who was trafficked as a year-old after running away from home in Baton Rouge, spoke last year in federal court in the only major federal trafficking case involving Bourbon Street in recent memory. Speaking at the sentencing of her pimp, the woman said she spent several terrifying weeks being forced to walk Bourbon Street, meet strange men and convince them to take her back to their nearby hotels for sex.
In her statement at the pimp's sentencing, she testified about the difficult process of recovering from her experience. I'm terrified that I'll never get this concept of life out of my head that sex sells and it's normal for women to barter sex to men. A dancer performs at a Bourbon Street strip club in January There are three primary ways pimps make money in New Orleans, according to interviews with human Sex ladies New Orleans experts and law enforcement officials. Street walking.
These are the more traditional "tracks" -- the places where johns can cruise along in a vehicle, looking for women walking the street. When they find a prostitute, they usually pull off the road to a cheap hotel room. The traditional tracks, especially those on Chef Menteur Highway, have become less visible as social media and sites like Back. Bourbon Street. Prostitution on New Orleans' most famous street and in the rest of the French Quarter has persisted since the city's founding.
But with the advent of social media and a more aggressive and brutal brand of pimps emerging on the scene, law enforcement officials and nonprofit leaders worry that New Orleans has entered a new and more dangerous sex trade era, with Bourbon Street as one of two focal points for pimps. What sets Bourbon Street apart is that pimps use an unusually wide range of methods to entice victims and lure customers there, investigators said.
In a growing of documented cases — including an extensive FBI investigation to be detailed later in this series — pimps also required the women under their control to steal from unsuspecting customers willing to take them back to their hotels. With the crush of people and the controlled chaos surrounding the bars, strip clubs and souvenir shops on Bourbon Street, it is easy to blend in. Strip club dancing. Some pimps are known to require women under their control to dance in clubs. There, women can meet men who will pay for sex in a private room Sex ladies New Orleans off site, or help their pimps recruit new women.
The woman asked that her name not be used because she did not want to publicize her past as a strip dancer. Ray Palazzolo, the senior general manager at Temptations and three other Bourbon Street strip clubs, said they monitor for possible pimps and remove them from clubs or fire anyone suspected of illicit activity — including dancers suspected of prostitution. But she said law enforcement must visibly and consistently enforce existing labor codes and trafficking laws inside d clubs if they want to discourage trafficking and identify victims.
With relatively little enforcement, the result is what you have now on Bourbon Street: a bull market for sex traffickers. A decorative shoe adorns a window along Bourbon Street. Investigative documents provided to NOLA. In every record that reporters reviewed, agents asked dancers whether they could score drugs for the customers, and in most cases, dancers either already had drugs on them or would call a drug dealer who would show up at the club.
Sometimes the dancer would be the conduit to complete the sale, according to the ATC records. In agreeing to the consent judgements, the clubs did not admit any wrongdoing. Among other things, the judgments, which were reached under the oversight of then-ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert, required the clubs to hire private investigators to conduct "mystery shops" to probe whether they were cleaning up their act.
Some of the clubs' mystery shops came back clean: In Februarya mystery shopper reported trying to solicit a dancer for sex at Temptations and was told that "since the state police raid, extracurricular activities had ceased," saying that "employees feared a follow-up raid.
But at the other five clubs, the private investigators documented at least one instance of dancers offering drugs or sexual favors in exchange for money.
At Dixie Divas, a bar just off Bourbon Street on Iberville Street that was initially cited for four counts of prostitution, an investigator found the illegal practices had continued, according to his report. In the December report, the investigator wrote that he was asked to go to a VIP room where sex would take place, or the dancer would meet him for sex outside the club.
When a reporter visited the club Oct. The club has not responded to it. At Dixie Divas, a bar just off Bourbon Street on Iberville Street that was cited in for four counts of prostitution, an investigator later found the illegal practices had continued, according to his report. Dancers using proximity to customers to steal money is a technique called "grope and grab," and is frequently used when a dancer is trying to earn her "quota" enforced by a pimp, said Lt. But she said the clubs would have been required to fire the employees involved. He said a combined 20 employees at the four clubs were fired for alleged illegal activity and for not adhering to club policies during the yearlong required monitoring.
Palazzolo said he decided to continue monitoring after the consent agreement with ATC expired late last year. Since then, he said, another 20 employees have been fired. In one incident, he said, an employee was fired and banned from all four clubs. In her June interview, Marine-Lombard said ATC has just 17 agents to monitor more than 18, venues that serve alcohol statewide. The ATC records from that period, however, include only 10 undercover visits looking for sex trafficking in a combined nine French Quarter clubs — and no visits at all at six other clubs there.
The documents did not include evidence of any fine or citation issued, however. Chez Joey has since closed. In six of the 10 visits ATC agents conducted since Januarythe records show, they found no problems. There were another 11 visits to strip clubs, but those records indicate agents were checking for underaged drinking or other ATC rules — the sort of routine visits at bars — and have no evidence that they checked for prostitution or sex trafficking.
A handwritten message is seen on a window near an adult entertainment club in the French Quarter. Palazzolo said if her manager had seen that, the dancer would have been fired. On a visit to Hustler Club in July, a young woman visiting the club was invited onto the main stage with a dancer and the dancer pulled the woman's top down, exposing her breasts.
ATC was told by the private investigators hired under the consent judgements that solicitations using private rooms continued at some clubs. Marine-Lombard said if ATC agents have not witnessed such actions or found prostitution in private rooms, it is not from a lack of trying.
Coming Friday: How federal law enforcement took down a band of ruthless pimps who trained women under their control to steal valuables from Bourbon Street tourists.
This is the first story in a three-part series on sex trafficking in New Orleans' French Quarter. Part 2: How pimps ruin lives on Bourbon Street. Part 3: Police slow to change tactics as sex trafficking persists on Bourbon Street. More: New Orleans hires attorney who has helped cities crack down on strip clubs. Edit Close. Toggle. Close 1 of 6. Pimps and prostitutes have a name for the street where sex for sale goes on display: The track. Top stories in New Orleans in your inbox Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. up today. Purchases made via links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission.
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