40 percent of homeless youth in Louisville are victims of sex trafficking, report finds

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear praised a study from the University of Louisville showing that many homeless youth are victims of sex trafficking.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear praised a study from the University of Louisville showing that many homeless youth are victims of sex trafficking. Staff file photo

University of Louisville researchers have found that 40 percent of homeless youths in Louisville and southern Indiana had been victims of sex trafficking, officials announced Wednesday with Attorney General Andy Beshear.

The Youth Experiences Survey interviewed 140 homeless youths ages 12 to 25 in October 2016. The study of those surveyed showed that one of every two females and one in three males reported being sex-trafficked, mostly in exchange for money or lodging. The youths who reported the abuse were more likely to be drug-addicted and diagnosed with more than one mental health problem.

The study also found that 70 percent of the youths reported that technology was used as part of their sex-trafficking victimization.

Sex or human trafficking is most often described as the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or sex acts, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The National Human Trafficking Hotline estimated that in 2016, there were 7,572 human-trafficking cases reported in the United States.

“Human trafficking represents the worst form of abuse, often to children, and it is increasing in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “That’s why my office is partnering with the public and private sectors to enhance and improve policy measures and training opportunities to increase resources and awareness to help end human trafficking. Research such as U of L’s study is important and will help our efforts to combat this form of modern-day slavery.”

In 2016, Beshear’s office reported assisting with 28 human trafficking arrests, and it was selected by the Department of Justice as the first Kentucky government agency to receive a federal human-trafficking grant, which will help hire a specially trained human trafficking investigator. The office also has forged partnerships with the trucking and hospitality industries, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The findings will be shared this week at the 2017 Central Kentucky Human Trafficking Summit in Georgetown. The team hopes the findings will help communities better serve homeless youth through increased awareness of their specific experiences and needs, said Jennifer Middleton, assistant professor of social work and U of L Human Trafficking Research Initiative co-director.

“This study provides us with a snapshot of the complexities homeless youth face, particularly youth who have experienced sex trafficking,” Middleton said. “The results highlight the need for early identification and screening of sex-trafficked youth as well as enhanced, trauma-informed services to help them.”

The U of L Human Trafficking Research Initiative at the Kent School of Social Work conducted the study with the aid of YMCA Safe Place Services, Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams, Home of the Innocents, Haven House, Center for Women and Families, Clark County Youth Shelter, Floyd County Youth Services and the Kristy Love Foundation.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford