Human trafficking — a problem associated with exotic tourist destinations — is also an abomination happening here in Kentucky. Children and adults alike are being bought and sold for sexual exploitation and forced labor.
House Bill 3, which was approved unanimously in the Kentucky House of Representatives last week, aims to strengthen Kentucky’s anti-trafficking law and includes a key provision to protect child victims of trafficking.
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky supports the bill and so should every Kentuckian.
The youngest victim of trafficking on record in Kentucky was 6 years old. She should have been honing her reading skills and learning to add and subtract. Instead, her value as a human person was supplanted by her value as a sexual object.
Since 2008, 101 victims of trafficking have been identified in the commonwealth. Nearly half — 44 of the victims — were trafficked as children. And 86 percent were female, according to Kentucky Rescue and Restore, a coalition of agencies that includes Catholic Charities of Louisville.
Marissa Castellanos, the human trafficking program manager at Catholic Charities, says the average age of a person who enters into prostitution in the United States is between 12 and 15. These children are under the age of consent, yet they are often charged with crimes and treated like criminals.
House Bill 3 would reroute victims of trafficking; it would treat them as victims who need care and services rather than as criminals.
Currently, minors who are forced or coerced into working as prostitutes aren’t charged with prostitution, unless they’ve been given a false identity and law enforcement officers don’t know that they’re minors. But minors are charged with other crimes that accompany their situation. They may be charged with truancy, for example. As a result, they go into the juvenile justice system and they don’t get treatment for the horrors they’ve experienced in the commercial sex industry.
Castellanos works with the children and teenagers who are victims of human trafficking. She said they’re coerced into these situations by people they trust or who have legal custody — often by their court-ordered guardians, a perceived boyfriend and even by their own parents.
About half of Kentucky’s trafficking cases involve foreign victims — men, women and children who may be exploited sexually or forced to provide manual labor or domestic service. The perpetrators may have initially promised their victims a better life or threatened the victims or their families, Castellanos said.
Father Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said during a program in January that the money involved in human trafficking is second only to that of the drug trade in the United States. “It’s a brutal business,” he said in a recent interview. “And it’s modern-day slavery.”
During major sporting events, such as the latest Super Bowl in New Orleans and the London Olympics, there is also a reported spike in trafficking, he noted.
Catholic Charities of Louisville is the only agency in Kentucky able to provide comprehensive services to trafficking victims. That’s because reliable, long-term funding for victims has been hard to come by. Kentucky Rescue and Restore, a network of five agencies statewide, works on the issue but lacks funding to offer comprehensive aid to victims, Castellanos said, noting that her position is funded on a year to year basis.
Another provision in House Bill 3 seeks to solve that problem by creating a fund for victims. It would be created by seizing the assets of and charging fines to those convicted of trafficking. The money would be used for victims services and also would help law enforcement and prosecutors who work on this issue.
The bill also calls for better training of law enforcement officers and prosecutors to help them accurately identify victims of trafficking — including those already in the justice system. It would also create a special unit in the Kentucky State Police dedicated to cases of human trafficking.
State Rep. Sannie Overly is the primary sponsor of House Bill 3, and it has bipartisan support from a host of co-sponsors. Last year, a similar bill was passed easily by the House but died in the Senate.
Every Kentuckian should urge their senators to pass this bill. Its provisions will help to secure the human dignity of this era’s slaves.
Record Assistant Editor