By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Nichole Dathorne, a victim specialist with the Louisville FBI field office, called on those gathered at the “Human Trafficking Summit: A Look at Modern-Day Slavery in Kentucky” Oct. 20 to become more observant.
“Be aware of what’s going on in your community,” Dathorne said, because human trafficking has infiltrated restaurants, hotels and other retail operations. “I hope everyone leaves here today with some kind of idea of what they might like to do to help make a difference to fight this human trafficking battle,” Dathorne said.
Three hundred people filled nearly every seat in the fourth-floor loft space at the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville to learn about the prevalence of human trafficking in Kentucky and ways they can call attention to the problem, which may involve sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude.
Ed Harpring, pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said his eyes were opened at the trafficking summit last week.
“We tend to think it happens more in big cities but human trafficking is obviously all around us,” he said. “What really stood out to me is that 60 percent of the cases in Kentucky are child cases — that is shocking and disturbing.”
Harpring noted that human trafficking is not unlike other life issues and said the Catholic Church is clear in its teaching that everyone is made in God’s image and likeness.
“All life is sacred and has value. It reminds me of Pope Francis’ quote about the ‘throwaway culture,’ ” he said, referring to the Holy Father’s now famous characterization of a society that treats people and things as disposable.
Human trafficking is now on the radar of local law enforcement and the FBI. A bill passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2013 offers “safe-haven” protection, which allows victims of trafficking to receive help rather than punishment.
The law reflects a change in the perspective of law enforcement, which now sees women and men trafficked for sex as victims rather than perpetrators, said members of local law enforcement during a panel discussion.
Representatives of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) and the Louisville FBI field office took part in the panel on “Human Trafficking Crimes in Louisville Metro: A Law Enforcement Perspective.”
Detective Brian White, who works with LMPD’s Crimes Against Children Unit, detailed the complex and often lengthy process that goes into trafficking investigations.
He described the process as an “intense manpower operation” that usually involves a hefty price tag.
Establishing trust with a sex trafficking victim can be very difficult, he noted.
“It’s really difficult as law enforcement to get through to these people because their pimp has conditioned them to be afraid of law enforcement,” said White.
“Right now it’s a tough time for law enforcement, for anybody to trust us, much less someone that automatically assumes they are going to go to jail.”
The problem of human trafficking has been on the radar of the Catholic Church for a number of years and it’s one Pope Francis condemns as “a crime against humanity.”
In an address he gave to the Conference on Combating Human Trafficking on April 10, 2014, the Holy Father called the practice “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.”
Harpring added that it’s not enough to be disturbed by the statistics and stories but Catholics must take action.
“If something looks suspicious, we are really required to report those things, especially if a minor is involved,” he said. “I’m not going to become a private investigator but I can open my eyes more.”
Among those sponsoring the event were Catholic Charities of Louisville and the Archdiocese of Louisville.