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KY Considers "Safe Harbor" for Child Victims of Human Trafficking

PHOTO: Kentucky lawmakers are considering adding a "safe harbor" provision to the state's human trafficking law. That protection for child victims of the crime is one of several improvements proposed in House Bill 3. Photo credit:  Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking.
PHOTO: Kentucky lawmakers are considering adding a "safe harbor" provision to the state's human trafficking law. That protection for child victims of the crime is one of several improvements proposed in House Bill 3. Photo credit: Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking.
February 14, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Human trafficking. It's often called modern-day slavery, and victims can be any age. Legislation to improve Kentucky's law on the crime, passed six years ago, is beginning its journey through the General Assembly. House Bill 3, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, includes "safe harbor" for children.

Gretchen Hunt, training coordinator for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said that provision is designed to treat minors forced into the sex trade as victims instead of criminals.

"Not only are they not being identified as victims and getting the services they need, they're being locked up," she said. "They're being locked up at higher rates than the "Johns" - the adults who exploit them by buying them for sex - and the traffickers."

According to the Kentucky Rescue and Restore coalition (Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Program), 101 victims have been identified in the state since 2008. Nearly half of them were lured into the sex trade as kids.

The level of trauma is "through the roof" for any child forced into prostitution or pornography, Hunt said. The proposed law would not just let them go, she added. Instead, they would receive "alternative intervention," she explained.

"These kids would be reported as abused, neglected or dependent," she said, "and they would be eligible for the kinds of services - the trauma-informed care - that they need in order to heal from the trauma of trafficking and become independent of their pimps and traffickers."

Eleven states currently have safe harbor laws in various forms.

The proposed legislation would also allow asset forfeiture and seizure. The proceeds would be directed to a victims' fund and law enforcement, according to Jefferson County Commonwealth Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kristi Gray, Louisville.

"It benefits law enforcement and prosecution and gives us another tool," she said. "It strengthens what we can do in the criminal justice system against traffickers."

Gray said most people are "completely unaware" that human trafficking is going on in every community. She warned it could become a bigger problem if people do not work on it.

"There's a lot of at-risk youth that make really easy targets for these traffickers," she said. "They're easily manipulated; they're vulnerable."

The next step for the bill, co-sponsored by more than 80 of Kentucky's 100 state representatives, is a vote on the House floor. A less-comprehensive bill passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate.

The legislation is available online at http://1.usa.gov/11GxBth.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY