By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Sixty percent of human trafficking victims identified in Kentucky since 2008 have been children, according to a recent report.
The youngest victim was just two months old, according to a June 2015 report released by the KY Rescue & Restore Coalition, a local chapter of the national campaign dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. Catholic Charities of Louisville is one of five coalition members in Kentucky.
The People Against Trafficking Humans (PATH) Coalition hopes to raise awareness about trafficking and curb its demand with a public prayer service at 4:30 p.m. on May 3 at Jefferson Square Park, located at Sixth and Jefferson streets.
The annual service is intentionally held the week of the Kentucky Derby because, organizers say, there’s an increase in commercial sex transactions during high-profile sporting events.
“We have data that shows an increase in commercial sex during the Derby,” said Marissa Castellanos, who manages the human trafficking program for Catholic Charities of Louisville. “It is something that happens throughout the year. But the commercial sex exploitation of women and children during big events where men gather together — including the farm machinery show and music festivals — does increase during this time.”
Sister Joetta Venneman, a Sister of the Presentation and one of the organizers of the prayer service, said that some of those engaged in commercial sex, including all children, are victims of trafficking.
Human trafficking is an issue Pope Francis has spoken about numerous times. In an April 2015 meeting with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the pontiff condemned human trafficking and called it the “plague on the body of contemporary humanity.”
Members of the local PATH Coalition, which includes congregations of women religious, plan to echo his statement.
The June 2015 report, which was compiled by the KY Rescue & Restore Coalition, shows that 332 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Kentucky since 2008. Of those 332 people, more than half — 197 — were trafficked as children. The average age-range of a trafficking victim in Kentucky is 15 to 17 years, Castellanos said. And 78 percent of the victims — 264 — had been sold for sex.
While most were trafficked for sex, Castellanos said it’s important to note that 52 of the victims were trafficked for labor, a problem she said is heavily under-identified.
Sister Venneman said that human trafficking continues to exist for a very basic economic reason — it’s in demand. This year’s prayer service will focus, in part, on this demand. Organizers plan to identify ways people can work to counter demand.
Castellanos said efforts to decrease the demand are essential.
“On a prevention-side, we do need to raise awareness. It involves us educating young people, who eventually become buyers,” she said.
A middle-aged married man with kids is the average buyer, Castellanos said.
“We have to talk about this early before they become a regular consumer,” Castellanos said. “We need to educate our young children now before teenage boys grow up and become consumers.”
While victims of sex trafficking can be both female and male, Castellanos said research she’s studied shows that buyers are typically male.
She said technology has enabled commercial sex to permeate the culture. Boys in particular, she said, begin to gain access to pornography as young as 11 years old.
“What we used to consider hardcore, violent pornography is considered typical porn today,” she said. “It’s really scary that an 11-year-old can access this on their phones any time of the day.”
Castellanos said parents, educators and others must talk about these issues with boys and young men.
“We need to prepare boys for those times they see these images or are around friends who talk about these things to be able to counteract that or deal with that in a positive action,” she said.
Sister Joetta Venneman added, “Each person deserves to be treated with human dignity and each person deserves respect. No person should be violated or be an object of another person. We are equal.”