House bill to curb human trafficking filed
By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
After losing federal funding to aid victims of human trafficking, Catholic Charities of Louisville and other agencies that help victims are backing a bipartisan anti-trafficking bill introduced last week in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
“We have been shocked and horrified by what we have seen,” said Marissa Cas-tellanos, who works with trafficking victims at Catholic Charities in Louisville. “I have seen that modern-day slavery is flourish- ing in Kentucky communities just below the surface. It exists to meet the demand for cheap labor … and for children and women” who are exploited for sex, she said.
“We should all be outraged that these crimes have been committed in our com- munities,” she said during a press conference at the Capitol Feb. 1.
She called on lawmakers to pass House Bill 350, “The Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act,” to bolster the state’s anti-trafficking law passed in 2007.
The new measure, filed by Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris, Ky., aims to strengthen laws for prosecuting those who buy and sell human beings — especially children. And it seeks to establish a fund to train officials to recognize trafficking victims who may be exploited for sex or forced into labor.
Saying that such practices amount to slavery, Overly said during the press conference, “I hope that House Bill 350 will go a long way to end that here in Kentucky.”
The proposed law would create a fund to aid victims. Money for that fund would come from fines paid by perpetrators and from the seizure of their assets. The bill also would establish a special unit within the state police to identify and investigate trafficking cases.
The measure also provides for increased fines and penalties in cases involving commercial exploitation of children, a problem that’s “risen at an alarming pace,” said Overly.
In the last four years, 67 victims of trafficking have been identified and assisted in Kentucky. That number is “probably just the tip of the iceberg,” Castellanos said.
“Thirty-nine percent of the human trafficking cases that we have worked on have been domestic cases,” meaning that the victims were U.S. citizens, she noted.
In addition, 43 percent of the state’s victims are children. Half of all victims have been trafficked for sexual exploita-tion. And the majority — 80 percent — are female.
One domestic victim, the youngest identified in the state, was a six-year-old girl sold to a man by her mother, Castellanos said. The mother was charged in 2009 with human trafficking, but the charges were later reduced to unlawful transaction with a minor, Castellanos said.
In another case, an 11-year-old boy was sold to men who raped and sodomized him.
Castellanos said that 12 criminal cases in Kentucky have involved human trafficking charges and “11 of those cases have involved children who have been bought and sold.”
The charges were reduced in several of those cases, Castellanos noted. She hopes the provisions in House Bill 350 will encourage prosecutors to enforce trafficking charges.
“I think it’s really important to have stricter provisions to bolster our criminal statutes, encourage them to be used more often,” she said.
Castellanos said during an interview that she hoped the legislation would help to alleviate suffering of victims, whose services have been threatened by an unexpected lack of funding in the state.
Catholic Charities and a statewide network of service agencies that assist trafficking victims lost federal funding last year. The federal funds were awarded to Catholic Charities and the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Coalition by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which received two grants from the department of Health and Human Services over the last several years.
HHS declined to renew the grants last year after including a requirement in the grant application that service providers make all reproductive services available to their clients.
Catholic Charities has applied for other grants and is seeking private donations to continue helping victims and train officials to recognize the signs of trafficking.
During the press conference, Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter, who serves at Epi-phany Church, called on people of faith to help curb trafficking.
“ ‘Lord, when did we see you imprisoned? When did we see you being sold? … We have no knowledge of these things. How can we be responsible?’ ” she said, referring to the Gospel of Matthew.
“This is the challenge we have as members of faith communities,” said Sister Lauter. “Children are sold. Children are trafficked. Children are held as domestic workers. This seems inconceivable to us.
“Probably without even knowing it you have worked with a trafficking victim at one time or another,” she said.
“What can people of faith do?” she asked. “Learn the name of your legislator. … Set aside any kind of partisan considerations and sit down and talk to that person about why you support this bill.”
The bill, filed Feb. 1, was referred to the judiciary committee Feb. 2. It is co-sponsored by 45 representatives.