Awareness Key to Preventing Trafficking


Awareness Key to Preventing Trafficking
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Highlighted by the most famous two minutes in sports, the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival showcases the best Louisville has to offer. However, with more than 1.5 million visitors from around the world, it also makes the city a prime target for human traffickers.

Retired Kentucky State Attorney General’s Detective Rick Lynn, who worked the last several years of his 43-year law enforcement career investigating human trafficking cases, said officials know this because activity on local human trafficking websites increases during the KDF.

“We have about a hundred websites in Kentucky that you can buy people on, and the numbers go up between 10 and 12% during Derby…and the day after Derby it goes down,” he said.

According to the Worthington, Ohio-based SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) Project, human trafficking is the second-largest crime in the world, with traffickers preying on vulnerable persons, usually beginning between the ages of 12 and 14.

“Traffickers are looking for broken people—poverty, single-parent homes, addiction in the home,” Rick said.

While demand for prostitution increases at large sporting events like the Super Bowl, Indianapolis 500, and Kentucky Derby, it occurs year-round and is funded largely by professionals, with more than 30% of buyers earning over $100,000 a year.

“We’re not talking about blue-collar workers. We’re talking about, these are white-collar workers in our communities,” Rick said.

He recalled one investigation that resulted in the arrest of a millionaire from Texas who flew to Kentucky to buy what he believed was an 8-year-old boy being sold by his mom. Unfortunately, such a scenario isn’t uncommon, as nearly half of all child trafficking involves a family member, Rick said.

“We know that, because we put all the kids for a year at home during COVID, and our numbers went up 60%,” he said.

In several cases, children are being trafficked by parents desperate to fund their own drug addictions, Rick said, adding the youngest trafficking victim he knows of was a 7-month-old baby.

“We have kids going to school and being trafficked at night,” he said, emphasizing the importance of being able to recognize something out of the ordinary, such as a kid with a hotel key or multiple phones.

“The awareness piece of this, especially in our education (system)—primary, secondary, and high schools—needs to be raised,” he said. “We’re teaching kids, but we’ve never taught teachers, counselors, administrators.”

Rick also encouraged listening to your gut when you see what appears to be an underage homeless person. “If you call the police, all they’re going to do is go interview that person. They’re not going to put a kid in jail,” he said.

While Rick doesn’t support abolishing prostitution laws, saying that every place that has done so has seen an increase in child prostitution, his time in law enforcement showed him that jail time isn’t necessarily the answer.

“After ten years of locking women up, three or four of us thought there’s got to be a better way than making this worse…Actually locking people up for prostitution made things worse,” he said.

Rick instead favors human trafficking facilities that utilize a holistic approach, including focusing on mental health, to provide victims needed help.

While the majority of human trafficking cases deal with sexual exploitation, labor trafficking also is significant, particularly during large events like the KDF that require additional service industry workers.

“All those people need to come from somewhere,” Rick said. “So, with needing all those people, you have businesses like a hotel that go to a staffing service that they’re the traffickers and the hotel doesn’t even know that’s going on.”

He recalled being at a hotel a few years ago that normally didn’t have 24-hour housekeeping service but was at full capacity because of Derby and needed additional help. To save money, hotel officials placed sleeping bags on the boiler room floor for the temporary workers.

Labor trafficking also tends to be more common in the agriculture industry, where non-English-speaking immigrant workers oftentimes are taken advantage of, particularly when it comes to their pay and onsite expenses, including rent, Rick said.

“Are they getting paid $600 a month and their rent is $550? What are the conditions in the trailer? Do we have a person in a trailer, or do we have ten people in a trailer? And are they all paying $550 (in rent)?” he asked.

Besides being taken advantage of financially, workers sometimes can be forced to live in inhumane conditions. Rick pointed to a farm south of Columbus, Ohio, where investigators found 15 people living in a trailer with no running water and had to use the bathroom in 5-gallon buckets.

“The language barrier is huge,” he said. “If you come here and don’t speak any English at all, to get exploited would be very, very simple.”

Rick said there sometimes is a hesitancy to report such conditions for fear of involving law enforcement, but noted a complaint form is available on the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s website that initiates only a civil investigation.

Rick said there are specific things—beginning with prayer—that those in the church can do.

“Obviously in our homes we have a lot of issues, and those are the people that we need to pray for—and pray for the kids,” he said. “And if you have somebody in need, bring them to church. They’re not going to find support out there on their own.”

Rick also asked Southeast members to continue to support the church's Care Team, which includes its Anti-Trafficking, Foster Care & Adoption, and Care ministries.

“I could not have done my job working at the AG’s Office without Southeast building the Care Team and doing advocacy work, because I didn’t have any advocates,” he said. “With their help, we helped a lot of people.”

Rick said it is also important to step in and help those who are vulnerable whenever possible. That could mean filling a backpack with food for a kid who isn’t getting three meals a day or providing a foster child with a suitcase so they don’t have to worry about losing their belongings when shuffling from home to home.

“The only way we’re going to fix the trafficking, because it’s a field of kids with vulnerabilities and adults with vulnerabilities, is to fill some of the holes where they’re vulnerable,” he said.