Published January 13, 2015
A first-of-its-kind report by Kentucky’s state health agency has found authorities in the Bluegrass State investigated 20 allegations of human trafficking involving 25 children over only about a four month period in 2013.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the Cabinet for Health and Family Services issued the Kentucky Child Victims of Human Trafficking Report on Nov. 1 as part of the state’s ramped-up effort to tackle not only a growing problem in Kentucky, but also one that many believe has long been under-addressed by state authorities.
"It tells us that Kentucky is, unfortunately, a state that is rife with human trafficking," Gretchen Hunt, staff attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, told the Herald-Leader of the report that compiled data from investigations conducted between June 26 and Oct. 18.
Marissa Castellanos, human trafficking program manager with Catholic Charities in Louisville, reportedly added that although Kentucky is "doing a good job so far… there are a lot more cases in reality than what even gets charged."
Castellanos told the Herald-Leader she works with about 30 victims of human trafficking each year — or nearly three times the number who actually saw their cases prosecuted during 2013, to date.
Indeed, the Herald-Leader cites documents obtained from the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts in reporting that the number of human-trafficking cases prosecuted in Kentucky courts has incrementally risen from only one in 2007, to three in 2008, to four in 2010, to five in 2011, to 10 in 2012 and 12 in 2013.
The steady increases reflect the aforementioned efforts in which the state health agency report is rooted.
This year, Kentucky passed the Human Trafficking Victim’s Rights Act, which notably mandates not only the filing of the annual report, but that trafficking victims are no longer to be summarily treated as criminal offenders. The new law also allows the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to extend assistance even if the trafficker is not a relative.
"These are children traumatized by one of the worst crimes you can imagine," Hunt told The Herald-Leader, "and they deserve to be treated as victims rather than criminals."
Also, the new law now reportedly allows authorities to seize houses – or other property –bought with money illicitly earned through trafficking. And all of this comes as public defenders and judges are reportedly attending training seminars to familiarize themselves with the nuances of the new law.
Yet, despite such gains, advocates and officials say Kentucky still has a ways to go on a vexing problem.
As late as 2012, a national anti-trafficking organization reportedly gave Kentucky a “D” for its weak laws on human trafficking, having based various states’ grades on 41 separate criteria. And The Herald-Leader again cites AOC records from 2007 to 2013 in reporting a pattern of trafficking charges being filed, but later amended down or dismissed.
And Hunt said Castellanos remains the state’s lone full-time advocate for trafficking victims, adding Kentucky needs more people like her, or more, "boots on the ground of people working on these cases."
The Herald-Leader cites the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project as defining trafficking as crimes that include, “children involved in the sex trade, adults who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into forms of ‘labor or services,” such as workers held against their will.
Officials told The Herald-Leader that cultural differences and agreements made abroad but executed in the U.S. often cloud authorities’ understanding of – and ability to prosecute – trafficking cases.
In mid-November, authorities reportedly arrested a married immigrant couple from India who prosecutors say required undocumented, Indian nationals to work 10- and 12-hour days for as many as seven days a week at four Lexington Subway sandwich shops for wages far less than usual rates of pay.