The Kentucky Derby draws thousands of people looking to imbibe and bet in the state every year. But local advocates and Attorney General Andy Beshear warned Tuesday that some guests may not be here willingly.
“The Derby is one of the greatest sporting events in the world and one all Kentuckians can take great pride in,” Beshear said. “But unfortunately there are individuals who use large sporting events like the Derby to traffic children and adults for sex and labor.”
Human traffickers use coercion, force and fraud to lure their victims into sex and work, a component that sets it apart from commercial sex, such as prostitution, according to the Department of Homeland Security. A sex or labor worker under 18 cannot give consent and would be considered a human trafficking victim.
In Kentucky, 332 sex and labor trafficking victims were identified by the state from 2008 through June 2015, according to data from federal Department of Health and Human Services. About two-thirds were trafficked as children.
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Human trafficking exists in the commonwealth every day but a significant amount of groups outside the state bring “hundreds if not thousands of sex slaves” during the Derby, Beshear said before a Tuesday press conference.
That contention is backed up by data from Free2Hope, a Louisville organization aiming to disrupt human trafficking by educating the public.
The number of online escort ads on sites such as Backpage.com triple for Derby, said founder and executive director Amy Leenarts. The horse race is typically the cause of the highest ad increase for the year, but the event was topped in 2015 by the rounds of NCAA Tournament games in Louisville, Leenarts said.
Keeping tabs of ads on some sites is one way to try to quantify human trafficking. But Leenarts, a victim of sexual crime “early in life” herself, said she feels frustrated by the many ways buyers cover their tracks.
“Who knows how many are actually out there,” she said.
Tuesday’s press conference, which also featured Leenarts and Marissa Castellanos of Catholic Charities of Louisville, was aimed at helping the public identify the signs of trafficking and who to call to report tips.
Local police departments have limited resources, said Castellanos, human trafficking program manager. Catholic Charities, funded federally, trains people such as EMS and hotel workers to look for the signs and report them.
But even the buyers of sex can and should report possible coercion to authorities, Castellanos said.
“I urge folks to consider that this is a really egregious crime,” she said.
She said Beshear’s office has shown a “new commitment” to the problem.
Beshear said many of the victims who are brought into the state aren’t even sure where they are or what is happening, a common sign of human trafficking.
“They need our help,” he said.
To report suspected human trafficking of a child, call 877-KYSAFE1 or dial 911 if you believe the individual is in immediate danger. Reporters of suspected human trafficking of adults can call or text at 888-373-7888 for immediate assistance. Interpreters are available for callers.
Signs of possible human trafficking, according to KY AG include:
· Fearful and reluctant to talk to outsiders
· Inability to clarify where he/she is staying or give an address
· Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
· Loss of sense of time
· Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
· Has possession of multiple pre-paid credit cards
· Does not have possession or access to his/her identification documents
· Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises, broken bones, burns and scarring
· Branding tattoos, which may have an image or the name of the person trafficking them
The National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1(888)373-7888