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Safe Harbor Helping Children Trafficked in Kentucky

PHOTO: A tougher human trafficking law in Kentucky has help children caught in the sex trade find safe harbor and get help. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: A tougher human trafficking law in Kentucky has help children caught in the sex trade find safe harbor and get help. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
March 19, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - More than 50 cases of child trafficking have been reported to the state since Kentucky updated its laws against the crime last year.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed the toughened law a year ago today, and it took effect in July. The key change was providing minors what is known as "safe harbor" - treating them as victims in these cases, not criminals.

"We are literally seeing children rescued and given services that probably would have been locked up in detention prior to the passage of the law," said Gretchen Hunt, staff attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

Human trafficking was made a felony in Kentucky in 2007. With last year's update, law enforcement now can seize the assets of both the trafficker and customer in a child sex-related case.

Often called modern-day slavery, human-trafficking victims can be any age, Hunt said. More are now being identified in Kentucky, she said, and referrals to community-based services are increasing.

"What we're really heartened to see," she said, "is that not only are they victims of sex trafficking, but we have higher referrals for victims of labor trafficking."

According to Hunt, there has been a 105 percent increase in calls from victims in Kentucky to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, run by the Polaris Project. That's the largest spike in the nation, she said.

The surge in awareness also has led to more training among law enforcement and government agencies, she said, and there has been an uptick in prosecutions.

"I think that the law will continue to make it more risky for traffickers to operate in Kentucky," she said.

Because victims of human trafficking face a different kind of trauma, Hunt said, the key to long-term success is creating what she called a "well-funded, well-supported" infrastructure of services.

"They have PTSD, they are completely cut off from society many times, and they have to relearn how to make choices, how to get a job, how to get safe housing," she said. "That's going to take a while for that infrastructure to really be built up in Kentucky."

Human trafficking is the world's fastest-growing criminal enterprise, Hunt said, calling it a $32 billion-a-year global industry.

The text of the legislation is online at lrc.ky.gov. The association's website is kasap.org. The Polaris Project is at polarisproject.org.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY