LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – In 2019, Kentucky ranked ninth in the United States in new federal criminal human trafficking cases.
Since 2007, there have been 1,030 reported cases of human trafficking in the Commonwealth, which includes 104 from 2020 alone.
In 2021, the state received 312 reports of human trafficking.
Trafficking is exploiting an individual for use as a commodity in the condition of either sexual or labor servitude.
Although human trafficking is usually perceived as someone tied up in a basement, in Kentucky, it is slightly different.
“For example, an individual may have an addiction, and they will sell their child for sex or for any reason just so they’d be able to get money or drugs,” said Heather Wagers, Executive Director of the Office of Trafficking and Abuse Prevention and Prosecution (TAPP).
It is safe to say the issue has gotten worse and worse over the years, so how can you tell if someone you know, is a target of trafficking?
“It’s hard to tell,” said Executive Director of Natalie’s Sisters Jani Lewis. “It could be anybody. It could be a girl in high school, a classmate. It could be a women who lives next door to you. It’s almost a relational thing, you have to know them, understand that things are changing in their lives and watch out for those things.”
“If something seems off, don’t shove it down and think ‘Oh it’s probably just me'”, Executive Director of Refuge for Women Michelle Frank said. “If something seems off, that’s good insight, go forward to people who you think could help.”
Children are at significant risk for trafficking. Particularly in part because of the use of social media by traffickers to groom their victims. If you see something that may not be right, that can be the difference in saving a child.
“Your eyes truly can see lives,” Wagers said. “If you can see something, if you can witness something, you’re able to connect those dots. Law enforcement needs your help.”
More often than not, victims may not even know they are being trafficked.
“They think that they’re living with their soulmate, and their soulmate is pimping them and they don’t even understand it.” Lewis said. “A lot of it is education, even for the women involved.”
Reporting suspected trafficking to law enforcement is great, but there are some forms of information that goes the furthest when reporting a suspected trafficker.
“Gather as much information as you can,” Executive Advisor for TAPP Alicia Parham said. “A description of the person. A description of the vehicle if you can get it. A license plate, that is very important. If you can get that. But just gather a lot of that information, safely.”
If you are interested in helping out Natalie’s Sisters, that information can be found here.
If you are interested in helping out Refuge for Women, that information can be found here.