The State of Human Trafficking in Kentucky

Graphic of humans standing within a barcode.

Human trafficking is a billion-dollar shadow industry with a presence in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This crime is defined by the National Human Trafficking Hotline as one “involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.” Victims are not a monolith; they are both female and male, adults and children, foreign-born and U.S. nationals. In Kentucky, concerns regarding this crime often focus on the activity’s growing presence within the state.

The State of Human Trafficking

Although much data is available about human trafficking, it is important to remember that, as an illegal activity, the actual numbers are most likely higher than reported.

General Statistics on Human Trafficking

  • At any given time in 2016, an estimated 3 million people were in modern slavery, according to the International Labour Organization. This means that for every 1,000 people in the world, 5.4 are victims of human trafficking.
  • Globally, 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.
  • Debt bondage affects half of all victims of forced labor imposed by private actors.
  • Forced labor in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits annually.

In Kentucky

  • Since 2007, there have been 373 cases of human trafficking in the state.
  • Between 2007 and June 30, 2017, there have been a total of 869 human trafficking victims in Kentucky.
  • Most victims in the state are female.
  • Sex trafficking is the most prevalent type of human trafficking labor.
  • In 2017, the top industry for sex trafficking was illicit massage and spa businesses. The top industry for labor trafficking was agriculture.

Unique to the commonwealth is a notable spike in trafficking cases during Kentucky Derby festivities. In 2016, Louisville Metro Police Department made 223 arrests for prostitution, according to reports. More than one-fourth of these arrests occurred between April and Derby weekend; 44 arrests occurred the first week in May alone.

Signs of Trafficking

Here are some warning signs of human trafficking, as identified by The Polaris Project:

Work and Living Conditions

The individual:

  • Is not free to come and go as he or she pleases
  • Is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Lives and works under high security measures (e.g., opaque or boarded-up windows, security cameras, etc.)
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature or conditions of their work

Physical/Mental Health

The individual:

  • Shows signs of being fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive or tense
  • Is nervous or paranoid, especially when discussing the subject of law enforcement
  • Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse, physical restraint or confinement
  • Lacks medical care or is denied medical services

Other Signs

The individual:

  • Is not in control of his or her own money, financial records, bank account or identification documents
  • Is not allowed to speak for him or herself; a third party insists on being present or translating
  • Makes claims of “just visiting” or is unable to clarify where he or she is staying or his or her address
  • Lacks knowledge of his or her whereabouts
  • Has lost a sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his or her story

Putting a Stop to Human Trafficking

Initiatives to curb human trafficking in Kentucky include:

  • Laws and statutes, such as:
  • KRS 336.075 – requires the Labor Cabinet to report all suspected incidents of human trafficking to law enforcement
  • Kentucky House Bill 524 – requires public schools to display the phone number of the National Human Trafficking Reporting Hotline (1-888-373-7888)
  • KRS 605.030 – permits court-designated workers to perform initial screenings for human trafficking
  • KRS 620.040 – provides assessment, treatment, housing and services to the child as a victim of human trafficking and treats the child as an abused child
  • KRS 421.500 – Victims’ Bill of Rights
  • Attorney General Andy Beshear created a campaign to train hotel workers in recognizing the signs of human trafficking.

Various organizations and programs with a focus on stopping human trafficking:

  • Rescue and Restore: A national campaign to end human trafficking operated by Catholic Charities of Louisville.
  • Free2Hope: A Louisville-based nonprofit organization that takes a victim-centered approach toward ending human trafficking.

In addition, Rescue and Restore is part of a statewide coalition of organizations dedicated to helping end human trafficking within the state. They include:

For individuals who wish to do more for Kentucky’s most vulnerable residents, training is available with the right degree.

Your Career of Service

Social workers specialize in helping others find a way out of difficult situations and teaching them how to grow and thrive. For those seeking to make a difference in the lives of others, the online BSW and online MSW programs at Brescia University can provide the right training to help students succeed in careers they love. Brescia was ranked as one of the best online Bachelor of Social Work programs in 2016-17 and one of the best online colleges in Kentucky.