FRANKFORT — Two weeks ago, a man living in Adair County was charged with human trafficking in connection with alleged prostitution that involved two juvenile females, including a 15-year-old, police said.
The case reflects a problem in Kentucky that state Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said prompted her to introduce legislation to strengthen Kentucky's human trafficking laws.
Under Kentucky law, human trafficking is a criminal activity whereby a person is subjected to forced labor or commercial sexual activity through the use of force, fraud or coercion. In the case of juveniles, the commercial sexual activity does not need to involve force, fraud or coercion.
On Wednesday, Overly introduced House Bill 350, called the Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act, which would establish a special division within the Kentucky State Police to identify and investigate those involved in human trafficking.
The legislation would create a Human Trafficking Victims Fund so fines and asset seizures would pay for programs that serve children and other victims of human trafficking. The bill also would increase fines and penalties for commercial sexual exploitation of children.
"Victims can be adult men and women, but unfortunately the incidence of trafficking children has risen at an alarming pace in Kentucky, and we need to stem the tide before we lose this battle," Overly said in a statement.
Marissa Castellanos is the program manager of the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking project within the Catholic Charities of Louisville. Castellanos told a crowd gathered at a news conference announcing the legislation that more than 60 human trafficking victims had been identified during the past four years.
More than half of the victims were trafficked for sex, and others were victims of labor trafficking, she said. Sixty percent of the victims were brought to Kentucky from other countries, but "there's a significant amount of domestic human trafficking."
"One (was a) child as young as 6 years old, sold by her mother," Castellanos said.
Since a statute making human trafficking illegal in Kentucky passed in 2007, there have been no successful convictions on charges of human trafficking among at least 12 cases that have been prosecuted.
"Some have been dismissed, some have been amended down and some are ongoing," Castellanos said.
Kentucky State Police detective Mike Dubree said Adulfo DeAquino Cancino, 27, was charged in Taylor County with human trafficking and unlawful transaction with a minor last month. Dubree said the investigation into an alleged prostitution ring is continuing.
With the proposed new law, Castellanos said, "We are hoping we will see increased identification of cases because we truly believe there are many more victims in this state that have not been identified."
Gretchen Hunt, an attorney who is the training coordinator at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said the lack of convictions reflects challenges in prosecuting sex cases.
"We are looking at getting more training out to law enforcement and prosecutors, to be able to better investigate these crimes," said Hunt.
State Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and other members of the state House of Representatives said they supported the bill Wednesday when the legislation was announced.
Several Georgetown College professors went to Frankfort to lend their support.
Regan Lookadoo, an associate professor of psychology, said students and professors have launched an initiative on campus to raise awareness about human trafficking and advocate for victims.
On March 23 and 24, officials at Georgetown College will host Kentucky's first statewide conference on human trafficking.