As Derby nears, prayer service highlights human trafficking

Students from Presentation Academy prayed during the sixth annual prayer service for victims of human trafficking May 1 in downtown Louisville. They were among about 50 people who attended the event, held each year before the Kentucky Derby. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By MARNIE McALLISTER, Record Editor

About 50 people gathered at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville May 1 to pray for victims of human trafficking and call for change to curtail it.

Carrie Bohnert of the University of Louisville School of Medicine spoke at the service and urged participants to learn the signs of trafficking. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

“There may be 40.3 million victims globally, but there are thousands here,” said Carrie Bohnert, one of the speakers at the service.

“Nearly 180,000 contacts have been made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, resulting in 40,000 cases of human trafficking,” said Bohnert, who researches trafficking at the University of Louisville Medical School. “Louisvillians made 468 of those calls.”

She urged her listeners, including students from Presentation Academy, women religious and members of local parishes, to memorize the trafficking hotline number — 888-373-7888 — and to use it if they suspect a case of trafficking.

Human trafficking is the buying and selling of human beings for sex, forced labor or other abuses. Pope Francis has called for action to end the practice, which he calls modern slavery.

The May 1 event was the sixth annual service, held each year the week of the Kentucky Derby. Advocates for trafficking victims say trafficking spikes during major events, such as the Derby and the festivities surrounding it.

But Bohnert added during an interview after the service that trafficking is ever-present in the area.

“It’s not something that comes in and blows out with the Derby, it’s something that needs our attention every day,” said Bohnert, who also serves on the board of the PATH Coalition of Kentucky, a non-profit formed by the annual prayer service’s participants.

The service was organized originally by a group of women religious. Those organizers and others now serve on the board of PATH, which stands for People Against Trafficking Humans.

Bohnert also urged participants at the event — and those reading about in the press — to educate themselves about trafficking.

“Google, educate yourself, learn how to spot human trafficking,” she said, listing websites that provide valuable information, including polarisproject.org, dhs.gov/blue-campaign and humantraffickinghotline.org.

Assistance for trafficking victims in Kentucky is provided by Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Bakhita Empowerment Initiative. It offers direct services to victims of trafficking and education to help people understand and recognize trafficking.

For more information about the Archdiocese of Louisville’s efforts to aid survivors or to get involved, visit cclou.org.

For more information about PATH, visit pathcoalitionofky.org.

Women religious, students from Presentation Academy and others prayed during the sixth annual prayer service for victims of human trafficking May 1 in downtown Louisville.
(Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

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