There are more slaves in the world today, experts say, than there were after hundreds of years of trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa to America.
On Friday and Saturday, the first statewide conference on human trafficking will explore the reasons behind modern slavery.
"Uniting Minds, Transforming Lives: the Kentucky Conference on Human Trafficking" at Georgetown College is a Friday and Saturday event with speakers who will address an issue that is gaining more attention.
The conference, which is open to the public, is expected to attract perhaps 200 Georgetown students and faculty and 100 other students, teachers, social workers and other professionals, said conference chairwoman Regan Lookadoo, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown.
Profits from human trafficking worldwide range from $10 billion to more than $31 billion, according to various reports in recent years.
A 2011 report said human trafficking is the second most-profitable criminal enterprise worldwide after drug trafficking.
"Most people think it's a problem abroad, but it is a problem here," Lookadoo said. "Rural states like Kentucky are highly vulnerable to trafficking. It isn't something we even consider happening, and so it's a perfect place for traffickers to be trafficking women along the interstates. They call those traveling brothels, and they're just all along interstates."
The keynote speaker at the Georgetown conference will be Lexington native Alden Pinkham, program specialist for the National Human Trafficking Research Center. Her address begins at 9 a.m. Friday in the John L. Hill Chapel on the Georgetown campus.
The research center has a round-the-clock hot line operated by the Polaris Project, an organization that combats human trafficking. The hot line fields calls from people who are victims of trafficking. It also receives tips about suspicious businesses that might be involved in modern slavery.
The call center can refer victims to services, shelters or law enforcement.
State Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, and Gretchen Hunt, an attorney and training coordinator for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, will speak about human trafficking in Kentucky during a session at 4 p.m. Friday in the chapel.
Overly is among the sponsors of House Bill 350, which would strengthen Kentucky's human-trafficking laws. The House approved it unanimously on March 2, and it now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill would increase training for police officers on human trafficking, create a special Kentucky State Police unit to investigate human trafficking, and strengthen laws to help prosecutors convict human traffickers.
The legislature passed a law in 2007 that made human trafficking a crime. Since then, there have been 67 documented cases of human trafficking and 12 indictments in Kentucky but few convictions, according to Kentucky Rescue & Restore, a coalition that fights human trafficking.
About 52 percent of those victims were trafficked for sex, and 42 percent were trafficked for labor.
The Georgetown conference is an outgrowth of Lookadoo's class on the psychology of slavery. Initially it looked at slavery in the past, but Lookadoo realized it remained a problem because forms of illegal slavery still exist. She sees the conference as part of a growing abolition movement.
"The abolition movement in the 1800s was not something started by the government. It started in small towns like Lexington and Georgetown, where people in their faith communities and in their towns decided, 'This is unjust,' and moved to end it. That's really the same place we're in today," Lookadoo said.
She said she hoped the conference would become an annual event that would travel to various regions of the state to raise awareness.
The conference is free to any student or teacher. The cost for others is $37.50 for one-day registration or $75 for two days.
A pre-conference kickoff concert is 7 p.m. Thursday at the chapel with Peter Mayer, lead guitarist for Jimmy Buffet's Coral Reefer Band. Tickets are $20 at the door.
For more information about the conference and its full schedule of speakers, go to www.georgetowncollege.edu/humantrafficking.