In Louisville, there are about 100 ads a day on one website that involve human sex trafficking. Just last year, there was a case of a Lexington woman charged with trafficking her 12-year-old daughter. Just last month, a Northern Kentucky man was charged with running a human trafficking ring from his home. And those are just two of the dozens of cases a simple Google search will find.
Human trafficking is real, and it happens in Kentucky.
That was the message Friday at a Human Trafficking Seminar held at St. Joseph London. The seminar, led by Marissa Castellanos with Catholic Charities of Louisville and program manager at Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking, aimed to help those in law enforcement, medical and other public service fields learn the signs of human trafficking, and learn what to do in the event of its occurrence.
More than a dozen women attended the seminar.
One bit of information offered involved who human traffickers are. They can be male or female, but are most often male, Castellanos said.
When it comes to the users, the percentage of males is even higher.
“Buyers are almost all men,” Castellanos said.
Research has shown that the average buyer is a middle-aged man who is married with kids.
“Which is scary,” Castellanos said.
But most become regular buyers by the age of 26, she said.
Sex advertisements, a number of which involve human trafficking, jump during major events, Castellanos said. One website notorious for such ads is backpage.com. The ads will typically be worded as if they are from a girl, and say she is available over the next few days. It will list a number, which is supposed to be the girl’s age. If a person clicks on the number, they can see photos of the girl, nearly naked if not naked.
“Some of these are girls putting themselves out there, for whatever reason,” Castellanos said. “But some of them are human trafficking.”
A study done that looked at when the number of advertisements increased the most found that the biggest increase in Louisville occurred during the NCAA tournament; the second biggest increase occurred during a farm machinery show; and big increases occurred during a law enforcement conference and a political conference.
“Any event that is attended by a lot of men who are away from their families,” Castellanos said.
And she said an increase in the ads does mean an increase in traffic.
“They wouldn’t place the ads if there wasn’t a market,” she said.
The derby causes a big increase in ads each year as well. During that time, the ads will use horse language, such as calling girls fillies, showing they are aimed at Derby attendees, Castellanos said.
Because of the Internet, most sexual acts relating to trafficking are done indoors; sometimes in private residences but most often in hotels, Castellanos said. And not just in “sleazy” motels, but nice hotels.
“They go where the customers are,” Castellanos said. “And believe me, there are customers in nice hotels.”
But some takes place at other establishments, such as Asian massage parlors and in strip clubs, Castellanos said.
Though the majority of human trafficking in Kentucky is sex trafficking, people also are trafficked for labor. Trafficking victims can often be found in domestic servitude, in restaurants, and on farms.
“It’s pervasive on farms,” Castellanos said. “They’ve been horribly exploited and often trafficked.”
Castellanos also talked about Kentucky laws regarding human trafficking. The laws have become stronger, she said.
Human trafficking in Kentucky is a Class C felony; if it involves a minor it is a Class B felony; if serious injury occurs it is a Class B felony.
Many times, several individuals will be involved in committing trafficking, each playing a different role.
“Whatever role you play in the trafficking, you can be held responsible for,” Castellanos said.
Though it has only been done in one case that Castellanos can recall, the law does allow buyers to be prosecuted for the offense as well.
She said the prosecution of buyers needs to increase.
“We can and should be charging buyers,” she said.
A person can be charged with the attempt to traffic as well, Castellanos said.
New laws were passed in 2013 dealing specifically with minor victims. Those under 18 who are victims of human trafficking can’t be charged with status offenses, such as truancy or being out of control.
Now, law enforcement officers can take a child into protective custody if they believe the child is a victim of human trafficking.
The laws are catching up, but advocacy by human trafficking organizations such as Rescue and Restore is still greatly needed.
“We try to help other agencies as much as we can,” Castellanos said.
Another program Castellanos is involved with is GEMS, which works to help girls and young women who are or have been victims of sexual exploitation.
GEMS helps girls with housing, court advocacy, and treatment of the trauma and violence associated with human trafficking.
One way GEMS has reached out to victims is with a book that contains stories and tips from former victims.
They call it the “Survivor Guide.”
“It might not look sexy, but it has magical powers,” Castellanos said.
The group hands out it to the girls who join, and it has proven very helpful.
The book contains subjects such as how to get out and how to adjust to a new life.
“It helps them understand that this is not all life has to be,” Castellanos said.
In Kentucky, 332 victims of human trafficking have been identified. The youngest reported victim was 2 months old. Sex trafficking makes up 78 percent of trafficking cases, and 60 percent of victims are children.