Human Trafficking is considered modern-day slavery and is widespread in Central Kentucky, where adults and children are being bought, sold and smuggled. It involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act and is the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world. However, local law officials, state agencies and several non-profits are working to eradicate this dark crime and offer victims help.

Who Are the Victims?

Victims of human trafficking are often adults and children who are victims of abuse and violence, runaways, refugees, immigrants or those who are homeless. “Any adult or child can fall prey to the manipulative recruitment and grooming tactics of traffickers,” said Attorney General Andy Beshear.

In Kentucky, both adults and children are coerced into illegal sex trafficking, domestic servitude and forced labor. This is worsened by Kentucky’s proximity to the I-75 corridor, where victims can be transported quickly to other states under the radar.

"When we talk about the crime of human trafficking, people often think of the movie Taken, or people following people around Walmart or Target attempting a kidnapping," said Robyn Diez d'Aux, a human trafficking advocate with Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Lexington office. "Although anything can happen, those aren't typical of the cases we're seeing."

Catholic Charities’ recent studies noted that most sex trafficking was prostitution-related, occurring in private residences or hotels. Labor trafficking exploitations varied but were mostly forced domestic servitude in private homes. Farms, restaurants and hotels are also popular for trafficking.

The 2017 Human Trafficking Report released earlier this year through Beshear’s Office and Catholic Charities of Louisville identified 40 victims from 20 investigations. Seventy-five percent of sex trafficking victims were females aged 13-54 and 25 percent were male labor trafficking victims aged 13-24.

How to Spot A Victim

A victim of labor or sex trafficking:

• May show signs of physical or mental abuse

• May not have control over their own money, ID or personal possessions

• May not be able to speak on their own behalf or unable to leave on their own

• May appear to be fearful or submissive

• May be traveling with other victims and be similarly tattooed or branded

• May not know what city or state they are in, or where they are living

• May work excessively long hours

• Most child victims stop attending school

• Can be found in restaurants, farming, massage parlors and soliciting at hotels, parking lots or house to house

Human traffickers are violent criminals who disconnect victims from family, friends and community organizations. Many perpetrators were victims themselves.

Victims’ Advocates

In Central Kentucky, several local non-profits are available to give victims food, clothing, shelter, life skills classes and access to several community services.

Natalie’s Sisters serves Lexington’s sexually exploited women in clubs and on the street and helps identify human trafficking victims. They work with human trafficking agencies like Refuge for Women, a national non-profit, faith-based organization providing specialized long-term care for women who have escaped human trafficking or sexual exploitation.

Refuge for Women offers a Lexington-based Crisis Center that serves women for 30 days at no charge to the resident. Applicants are interviewed over the phone to determine urgency and eligibility, then the intake process continues after a woman has been safely transported to the Crisis Center.

“We get applications around the country looking for a safe place to flee for safety and healing,” said Ked Frank, President of Refuge for Women, Inc.  “They can call us directly at (859) 254-0041 or just go straight to the website at www.refugeforwomen.org.”

This year Kentucky’s Office of the Attorney General was involved in 30 arrests on charges involving human trafficking and other related offenses. The office worked jointly with other law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations to carry out a successful anti-human trafficking operation during the Kentucky Derby. The Derby, like other large-crowd events, draws human trafficking opportunities.

“Over the course of two days in May, the joint operation resulted in eight people being arrested and charged with promoting human trafficking and other crimes,” said Beshear.

The office also worked with local law enforcement to arrest two Louisville men and a Louisville woman on human trafficking charges involving two 16-year-old girls, and in a separate case, a Kansas man who attempted to purchase a Kentucky child for $250 and 7 grams of methamphetamine. The office secured the guilty plea of a Lawrenceburg man on human trafficking charges and a 20-year sentence of former Campbell County District Judge and local school board member Timothy Nolan on numerous felony charges, including human trafficking.

The office partners with Catholic Charities of Louisville and received a federal grant to hire the state’s first full-time human trafficking investigator, and trains more than 4,000 law enforcement officers, health care employees, first responders, inspectors, hotel, hospitality and tourism workers, and community members across the state. It also releases the 2017 Human Trafficking Task Force Report. All hotel employees can now identify and report human trafficking.

In 2017, Gov. Matt Bevin signed legislation into law intended to stop human trafficking. HB 524 requires public schools and rest areas along highways to post signs with a human trafficking hotline number that victims can call for help.  

Operator Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a national organization working to end child slavery. It is comprised of the world's experts in extraction operations and in anti-child trafficking efforts and includes an Underground Jump Team of former CIA, Navy SEALs, and Special Ops operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts in conjunction with law enforcement.

O.U.R. states, “We follow this process every step of the way to make sure they [perpetrators] don't traffic children again. In many cases the perpetrators were sex slaves and victims of trafficking themselves and know no better way to survive. We hope to break this cycle.”

Technology’s Effect

Smartphones are a common denominator in a majority of the sex trafficking situations, and the recently shut down Backpage.com, Facebook and Snapchat were most commonly reported as being used to recruit victims and sell them to buyers. This was a key finding from The University of Louisville’s Youth Experiences Survey that studied homeless youth aged 12-25 to determine the scope of sex trafficking in Kentuckiana.

Through a partnership with O.U.R., a group of forensics students at neighboring college Marshall University has assisted in the liberation of almost 40 child trafficking victims and the arrest of 10 suspected traffickers.

Where to Get Help

If a human trafficking victim is in immediate danger dial 911.

To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733). Humantraffickinghotline.org offers online chatting; interpreters are available.

Any child involved in commercial sexual activity, including prostitution, stripping or pornography, is a victim of human trafficking under Kentucky law and should be reported to Kentucky’s Child Protection Hotline at 877-KYSAFE1.

A helpline through the National Organization for Victim Assistance is at 800-879-6682 (800-TRY-NOVA) 9am-5pm Eastern time, Monday-Friday or visit www.trynova.org. Its Victims Help tab offers resources for victims on advocacy, legal assistance, protective orders, compensation, trauma and stalking.

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