January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. Human trafficking is the exploitation of another individual for labor and/or commercial sex though the use of fraud, force, or coercion. While many people think trafficking only happens in foreign countries, it occurs right here in Kentucky—and much too frequently.
According to the 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report, Kentucky ranked ninth in the nation for human trafficking cases filed. Kentucky’s major interstates and location make it particularly susceptible. According to news station WLKY, in 2019, 136 cases of human trafficking were reported to the National Trafficking Hotline, and 206 incidences against minors were reported to Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. A University of Louisville study found that 40% of homeless youth were involved in trafficking.
Critically, human trafficking intersects with AppalReD Legal Aid’s mission and service population. The Polaris Project writes:
“People living in poverty, or foster care, or are struggling with addiction, trauma, abuse or unstable housing, are all at comparatively higher risk for trafficking.”
As an organization we not only serve victims of trafficking, but we can also aid in preventing sex and labor trafficking.
Let’s look at two cases.
Recently, “Martina” fled to Kentucky. She left everything behind, including her name, and wanted to ensure that it would stay that way. AppalReD helped her change her name and get an order to seal her record so her abuser cannot locate her.
Another survivor of trafficking, “Emmy,” came to AppalReD Legal Aid for help finding stable housing. (Through our Appalachian HOPE program, we provide survivors of domestic violence with resources to transition to safety—including housing, new locks, utility connections, or legal documents.) When “Emmy” arrived, staff mistook her for a young teen. In fact, she was a 20-year-old mom desperate for safe housing. Emmy had been sold by her own mother for drugs and money to a family several counties away. She spent years hoping her own father might rescue her. Eventually, she realized no one was coming to help her. And she now had three children who were her responsibility to protect.
Emmy took her future into her own hands and escaped. These days, Emmy still doesn’t go anywhere without her three children. She lived too long in a world where children can be bought and sold.
Not every case will look like Martina’s and Emmy’s. Trafficking can be acted out in a myriad of ways. Below is the action-means-purpose model and power wheel from the Polaris Project, which runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It demonstrates how different trafficking can look from the myth of a stranger in a white van.
What can you do to help?
- Familiarize yourself with what human trafficking can look like.
- Living with employer
- Poor living conditions
- Multiple people in a cramped space
- Inability to speak to individual alone
- Answers appear scripted and rehearsed
- Employer is holding identity documents
- Signs of physical abuse
- Submissive or fearful
- Unpaid or paid very little
- Under 18 and in prostitution
For even more extensive indicators, visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s webpage “Recognizing The Signs.”
- If someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
- Help prevent human trafficking by supporting legal aid and other programs serving vulnerable populations.