Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the growing problem of human trafficking in Louisiana.

Local author Laura Aranda never intended to become a bastion of awareness to human trafficking, but she sure picked up the baton and ran with it.

It’s been nearly a year since she penned her book, “Pushing Back the Darkness,” but she hasn’t slowed down one second. She has teamed up with seven other writers from around the country to develop a curriculum designed to help families recognize the signs and risk factors of human trafficking, as well as continuing to build awareness to the plight of underage victims — not just during human trafficking awareness month, but 365 days a year.

If you read her book, you would wonder if Aranda herself was a victim of the seedy underbelly of human trafficking. Not the case, she is quick to assure.

“This book is purely a fictional account,” Aranda said. “There is a lot of disbelief in society when it comes to this issue, and I have to admit, I had the same mindset. For me it began when I was in Houston and happened upon a non-profit organization that turned an old brothel into a modern-day slavery museum. It struck a chord with me. I grew up in Starks and hadn’t heard of anything like this in Louisiana.”

That’s when Aranda began researching for her book.

She began combing through government documents and statistics. She came across quite a few horrifying tales of survivors and how they were exploited. “I wanted to do my part in writing something from which anyone can learn at any age,” she said. “We have to teach safety so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Aranda said writing, “Pushing Back the Darkness” has changed her life. 

She hopes to pay it forward.

The curriculum should be ready by this summer and Aranda hopes that eight heads are better than one when it comes to pushing awareness. One of her colleagues offers a surreal first-hand knowledge, having been a victim of trafficking on the West Coast. “This woman was trafficked and out of the darkness came light in her life. She had a son — not knowing who the father is — and it changed her life. She has turned her life around and has embraced being a mother.”

Aranda points to another victim of trafficking who has made an impression on the author’s life. While traveling around the country and speaking at seminars, she met a 22-year-old woman in Indianapolis who was prostituted out of a hotel for two years before finally escaping the nightmare.

“She’s in the process of rebuilding her life and to see her strength and her attitude toward life just reinforces my dedication,” Aranda shared.

Those first-hand accounts add fuel to Aranda’s fire. She hopes the new curriculum can help pull others from the darkness. There will be 16 lessons included in the project, talking about triggers, addictions, target locations, faith, Stockholm Syndrome (when victims develop a trust or affection for their captors) safety tips and social media — to name a few.

Of those Aranda mentions social media as being paramount to prevention. “We cannot stress just how important it is to exercise safety on social media. When I speak to any group, I tell them to never tag yourself on social media and never offer any personal information,” Aranda said.

Though she now resides in Bridge City, Texas, Aranda is still heavily involved in the Louisiana movement to eradicate human trafficking. She works with the non-profit group Southwest Louisiana Abolitionists. The group is centered in Calcasieu Parish and pushes awareness, prevention, advocacy, rescue and restoration. Anyone from Southwest Louisiana can become involved in their movement by visiting their website, www.swlaabolitionists.com. You can also reach Aranda through her website, www.authorlauraaranda.com.