By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
As the city of Louisville prepares to welcome tens of thousands of visitors to Churchill Downs for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, prospects are bright for a boom in business around the city.
But another sort of business — the commercial sex trade — also sees a spike during major sporting events such as the Derby, according to advocates for victims of human trafficking. That means there’s also an increase in the number of people engaged in commercial sex who aren’t doing it by choice — that women, girls and even some boys are being forced, coerced or drugged into stripping and sex acts, they say.
“Human trafficking is a reality in Kentucky and in greater demand around large public events,” said Sister Joetta Venneman in a recent interview.
Sister Venneman, a Sister of the Presentation, was among the organizers of a prayer service held Tuesday that was sponsored by local women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
“We thought a prayer service may be a way to call attention to the issue,” said Sister Venneman. “We want to be in solidarity with and compassionate toward those who are victims of human trafficking.”
The Derby is the latest in a string of major public events in which victims’ advocates have tried to raise public awareness about the problem.
Just before the Super Bowl earlier this year, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, that city’s officials and business leaders aired a public service announcement to raise awareness about human trafficking. The announcement asked people to be on the lookout for potential victims of this modern-day slavery.
During the London Olympics, Catholic News Service reported, hotels were asked to educate their staff about trafficking and train workers to identify and report suspected cases.
Victims’ advocates here in Louisville — including women religious, individual volunteers, Catholic Charities workers and the Louisville Human Trafficking Task Force — have called on hotels to adhere to a code of ethics related to trafficking prevention. And they are distributing soaps and lip balm in the restrooms of area hotels, gas stations and restaurants where victims may find themselves alone for a moment. The soaps and lip treatments are wrapped in labels that tell vicims how to find help.
Labels on lip gloss and chapstick, advocates’ newest project, say, “Have you felt forced or tricked into stripping, having sex or other sex acts? There is hope — 1-800-3737-888.” The phone number is a national hotline for victims of trafficking. Those who suspect a trafficking situation may call it, too.
“We need to get resources for help into victims’ hands,” said Marissa Castellanos, who works with trafficking victims at Catholic Charities of Louisville. “The idea is, it’s a simple item they can use and it has this label on it. If it’s safe for them to keep it they can use it, or if not, they can just take the label.
Castellanos noted that trafficking victims often are trafficked from other areas for major events, and then taken away afterward. The national hotline is essential, she said, “so they can get help wherever they are.”
Lip balm has been donated for this effort by church groups and by the University of Louisville, she said. She said that the public can help, too, by donating lip balm. Volunteers also are needed to print and apply the labels (the template is available through Catholic Charities) and distribute the lip balm in public restrooms.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the Louisville Human Trafficking Task Force on Facebook.