Recently, I sat down with Brittney the co-chair of the Lexington Human Trafficking Task Force to discuss a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Human trafficking is not a far flung concept that does not reach the United States borders, and more so, Kentucky is not immune to the sickness that forces men, women, and children to perform for their livelihood. By definition, human trafficking is modern day slavery and we should be deeply affronted by the fact that it exists today. Trafficking can come in the form of forced labor or sex for commercial purposes and can affect anyone from birth to death. It is projected by The Polaris Project that there are more people in modern day slavery than there were at the height of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
We fight for our own personal freedom of choice and now we need to fight for the ones who cannot fight for themselves. Much of the time, I think we lull ourselves into believing that human trafficking couldn’t happen in our back yard. As Kentuckians, we turn a blind eye to the fact that it is happening and happening with frequency here in our beloved state. We post on facebook or twitter with our “red badges” of support but how does that shine a light in the darkness? How does more awareness help if there is no action to back up the enlightenment? Kentucky is one of 11 States that has a Safe Harbor Law (summary version) for trafficking victims, and of the 11, Kentucky has the most comprehensive law to protect trafficking victims. Recently, Senate bill 184 was passed which allows victims of human trafficking to present affirmative defense to non-violent crimes and expunge non-violent convictions. Both our Safe Harbor Law and SB 184 are huge victories in the war against Human Trafficking. These laws make it easier to protect those that are victimized and easier to prosecute those who trafficked the victim. One of my favorite facets of our laws against traffickers includes the seizing of assets of not only the trafficker but the consumer. Those assets are then funneled back to the victim and agencies fighting Human Trafficking.
One hundred sixty victims of human trafficking had been identified in Kentucky before the most recent report was released. Of the one hundred sixty identified, ninety-four were trafficked as children. One hundred thirteen of those identified were victims of sex trafficking, forty-one were victims of labor trafficking, and six of the one hundred sixty were both labor and sex trafficking victims. From June to October of 2013, twenty six cases were identified ranging in age from two months to seventeen years of age.
The fact that brought me to my knees throughout the entire conversation was that the youngest victim was two months old. Let that fact sink in. Two months old, 8 weeks into the world and already that sweet baby has been exposed to a darkness that should have never touched it. As you sit, outraged as I was, wondering what kind of beast could harm a baby, you need to ask yourself what can you do?
You can join the H.O.P.E. Campaign to help spread the word throughout our state that Kentucky is willing to fight for the victims of human trafficking. This campaign takes the fight to the street with the help of anyone willing to lend a few hours of time every month to distribute chapsticks containing the national hotline for human trafficking, a program of the Polaris Project. Since the inception of the H.O.P.E. Campaign in January 2013 calls to the hotline have increased by 105% and increased by 62% in the Lexington area. The group meets once a month and goes to predetermined high traffic locations such as hotels, laundromats, and rest stops to leave the chapsticks. The chapsticks are small and common place so they are easily concealed if taken by a victim or given to a victim. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. With the opening of Keeneland, the street teams of the Campaign delivered chapsticks to forty-eight locations across Fayette, Jessamine, Scott, and Clark county. It is common knowledge to those who work in anti-human trafficking that events like Keeneland bring a spike the number of trafficking victims, whether it be labor or sex. To get involved with the Campaign, join them the second Saturday of every month to hand out chapsticks in Lexington. If Lexington is too far from where you are located start a campaign in your town under the wing of The H.O.P.E Project.