Human trafficking is a violent crime, one that imposes serious health concerns not only on its victims, but on whole communities. While some might think that human trafficking only occurs in Third World countries, it is surprisingly prevalent in Kentucky, due to its association with substance abuse, which has ravaged parts of the Bluegrass State.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there have been approximately 1,000 known victims of human trafficking in Kentucky over the last ten years. Even worse, Kentucky has reported that child trafficking has increased almost 50 percent per year over the last few years, climbing from 51 victims identified in 2013, to 125 victims identified in 2015.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Kentucky due to drug overdose jumped nearly 12 percent in 2017, to 1,565.
Because addiction to hard drugs like meth, heroin, and prescription painkillers is so prevalent in Kentucky—and because access to these drugs can be used to manipulate a person addicted to them—human trafficking had become a symptom of the state’s drug trade.
“There’s a lot of addiction involved with human trafficking and sex trafficking,” said Erin Henle, administrative assistant at Beacon House in Louisville. “It’s usually a cocktail of drugs, but opiates and meth are still really big here in Kentucky.”
Beacon House is a men’s only facility in the Old Louisville neighborhood, providing long-term housing and wrap-around job, life-skills, and 12-Step support following rehab, but it has a new women’s facility in the works. As part of that effort, Henle is working with area agencies to address human trafficking and its intermingling with substance use disorders.
What is Human Trafficking?
There are two main kinds of human trafficking: the first is labor trafficking, where people are forced to provide domestic work, farming, or construction work. The second, more prevalent kind, is sex trafficking, where people are coerced or forced to engage in prostitution at hotels, truck stops, or on the street. The victims of sex trafficking in Kentucky—and pretty much anywhere else—are predominately female.
Henle, who recently led a presentation at the Office of Trafficking in Persons in Washington, D.C., said that the public often seems to think sex trafficking and prostitution are interchangeable. This is not the case.
“They’re not interchangeable,” Henle said, “though people may move from one category to another, sometimes back and forth. Sex trafficking involves any kind of coercion or force or threat to the victim’s immediate family. Prostitution doesn’t. Of course, any prostitution involving someone under 18 is considered coercive by the authorities.”
A Statewide Task Force
In 2013, lawmakers launched the Kentucky Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. The mission of this task force is to combat all forms of trafficking through a multi-disciplinary approach.
Part of this approach is to create targeted outreach, awareness, and training for victims’ advocates. In 2017, the Office of the Attorney General and Catholic Charities of Louisville conducted trainings on human trafficking across the state, reaching 3,448 people in community organizations, law enforcement, and social service workers.
“Human trafficking is a growing and gruesome crime,” said Attorney General Andy Beshear. “It has no place in our Commonwealth.”