Chances are you’ve never heard the statistics before, but here they are:
In 2016, there were 169 reports of human trafficking in Kentucky involving 208 alleged victims, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Of these reports, girls and women were the most frequently targeted victims.
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of 22,191 sex trafficking cases in the United States. And in 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were probably sex trafficking victims.
Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and even in Central Kentucky, said Lisa Satin, executive director of The Well of Lexington. She and her organization are trying to do something about it.
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An effort to help those behind the statistics began in the summer 2012, when the founder of the Nashville-based nonprofit Thistle Farms spoke in Lexington and shared the story about her organization for survivors of sex trafficking, violence and addiction.
Four women who heard the presentation decided that Lexington needed a version of Thistle Farms. They began researching and learning about sex trafficking.
“We educated ourselves on sex trafficking, not only how it’s everywhere but also how it’s right here under our noses in Central Kentucky,” said Susan Parker Weatherford, who heard the presentation.
Local novelist Kim Edwards, a founding board member, did some researching, too.
“Girls are often lured into these situations at very young ages — 12 to 13 years old is the average age,” Edwards said in an email message. “They are runaways, or from difficult situations, and traffickers know where to look for them. Once they’re caught in this life, it’s hard to get away. They are stigmatized, have little education and no skills, and they have nowhere to go.”
The women started raising money and educating the community on the issue, beginning as an outreach program. After two years, the program became a nonprofit.
Last year, The Well opened the doors of its first home to survivors of sex trafficking. The survivors live in the house together. Their accommodations are free. They receive clothing, food and access to the social services that they need.
Program staff work closely with jails to find women who need help.
“There’s too many people that are incarcerated, and a lot of these people need help instead of being thrown in jail,” Satin said. “They just need to be helped with their problems, which is what we’re trying to do.”
The Well’s program provides individual counseling, support group assistance, and opportunities to earn a GED and acquire job skills. Recently the program started Clean Start, a social enterprise partnering with real estate agencies to give the women jobs cleaning vacant houses or offices to prepare them for the job market.
One of the goals is for the survivors to learn job skills, money management and self-support, Satin said.
Edwards has seen the program change lives already.
“It’s been a privilege to get to know the women who have been a part of our program, to hear some of their stories, and to witness the transformation that takes place as they experience a safe home — many of them for the first time — and the healing power of love,” Edwards said via email.
“This healing is hard work, and it takes a lot of courage and determination — these women have experienced so much trauma.”
The organization is supported by local businesses and individuals. Satin is working toward applying for grants.
A fund-raising opportunity is taking place at West Sixth Brewing throughout August with West Sixth’s wooden nickels. Those who buy a flight of beer are given a wooden nickel that’s worth a dollar. It can be spent on merchandise or given to the brewery’s nonprofit being featured that month. Also, from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 24, materials about The Well will be available to West Sixth patrons.
Satin said the main goal of The Well is to open more houses so the program can take in and help more residents.
“We really try to give them unconditional support,” Satin said.
“I’ve seen women who are now excited about getting up in the morning,” Weatherford said, “not fearful of what’s going to be happening to them that day.”
Emma Austin: 859-231-1455