By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Summer Dickerson, a young woman who survived sex trafficking, sat on Millionaire’s Row during the Kentucky Derby and none of those celebrating around her realized she wasn’t there for the race.
Dickerson shared her story at a press conference held by the Kentucky attorney general’s office April 18 at Survivors’ Corner — a resource center for victims of human trafficking located at 900 S. Shelby St.
Attorney General Andy Beshear called the conference to inform the public about human trafficking during the Kentucky Derby — a time when, he said, there’s an increase in the buying and selling of individuals for sex and forced labor.
Putting a stop to such trafficking will require the community’s effort, he said.
Individuals can help by looking for certain signs that someone is a victim. Some signs to look for, Beshear said, include:
- Individuals with tattoos or branding;
- People who appear malnourished;
- A person who won’t make eye contact;
- Someone who lacks identification documents or personal possessions;
- Individuals who can’t identify the state they are in or where they are staying.
In an effort to identify and protect victims of trafficking, Beshear said his office has partnered with Catholic Charities of Louisville, the University of Louisville and the Transit Authority of River City (TARC).
Through the partnership with Catholic Charities, the attorney general said, his office secured the first grant to combat human trafficking.
The grant was used to train 9,000 individuals state-wide to detect and report trafficking.
Every TARC driver and dispatcher has been trained as well. And for the first time this year, an individual trained to spot victims of trafficking will be aboard every TARC bus during Derby week, he said.
Such efforts pay off, he said. The attorney general noted that last year, during events in the city, 39 individuals suspected of taking part in trafficking activities were arrested. One was prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Beshear said.
Marissa Castellanos — director of Catholic Charities’ anti-trafficking Bakhita Empowerment Initiative —said this collaborative effort against human trafficking should happen year-round.
“Any efforts to combat human trafficking needs to be collaborative,” said Castellanos. “The active engagement of many organizations to help identify, investigate and serve survivors is needed, especially to do really good comprehensive work.”
The Bakhita Empowerment Initiative aims to educate the community about human trafficking as well as provide services such as housing, food, clothing and legal and immigration aid to survivors.
During the press conference, Dickerson shared with those in attendance that people often ask her, “ ‘What are you doing for Oaks and Derby?’ Four years ago I was being sold on Oaks and Derby. Four years later I’m part of the solution,” she said.
Dickerson — founder of the Women of the Well ministry — said she lived in Chicago for a time and even then she was brought to Louisville to be trafficked during the Derby.
“I sat on Millionaire’s Row and no one realized I was a victim,” she recalled.
As the 145th Kentucky Derby draws near, efforts to raise awareness about trafficking will continue said Castellanos.
PATH (People Against Trafficking Humans) will hold the seventh annual prayer service to remember victims of human trafficking April 30 at 4:30 p.m. at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville. The park is located at Sixth and Jefferson streets.
Also, the second annual Stop the Traffic Gala will take place at 7 p.m. Derby eve, May 3, at La Casita Center, 223 E. Magnolia Avenue.
Funds raised will benefit the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative. For more information, visit the Facebook page Stop Traffic Gala 2019. For tickets, visit https://louisvilletickets.com/events/stop-traffic-gala.