Health and Family Services Cabinet
Op-ed - Human Trafficking in Kentucky: Forced Prostitution and Domestic Servitude
(Note to editorial page editors/program directors: The following is an op-ed piece.)
By Gretchen Hunt, Staff Attorney
Kentucky Division of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services
Recent media reports have shed light on modern-day slavery in Kentucky - women forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, working long hours for little pay under inhumane, degrading conditions.
Several Asian women working in massage parlors in Central Kentucky recently were arrested and another, working as a maid for a powerful Northern Kentucky business executive and his wife, was assaulted when the couple tried to forcibly deport her. Far from being criminals, these women actually may be victims of human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking often are held captive through the use or threat of physical abuse, isolation, threats to loved ones, confiscation of their documents and even forced drug addiction. They are forced to work to enrich their captors with little or no compensation. People committing these crimes range from organized crime leaders to the well- respected and influential.
Trafficking is different from smuggling, which involves people who consent and pay a fee to be brought to the U.S. illegally. Victims of human trafficking often are imprisoned and not allowed to leave the massage parlors, factories, farms and homes where they serve as cheap labor, slaves or in servile marriages. Victims may be held through force, fraud, coercion or psychological and physical abuse. Even their family members may be threatened and afraid to tell authorities about the enslavement. Though victims may consent to the work at first, this is not a defense against charges of trafficking.
Trafficking victims often are constantly monitored and accompanied, have limited freedom of movement, show signs of physical abuse, suffer health problems, are fearful of speaking to outsiders and lack identity documents.
Uncovering such enslavement takes time, cultural and linguistic competency and detailed questions, as victims rarely identify themselves,
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and 2005 grants human trafficking victims basic rights, such as the right not to be jailed and the right to an interpreter, benefits, housing and legal protection. Law enforcement and other first responders can best help victims and identify traffickers by coordinating their efforts with victim service providers to ensure victims rights are honored and to build the trust needed for victims to testify against their traffickers.
The state Division of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services conducts victim services and responder training and recently helped organize a meeting of victim advocates, law enforcement, legal services and prosecutors in the Lexington area to address the human trafficking problem.
State government also is collaborating with the University of Kentucky to conduct a trafficking victims needs assessment. Findings from the assessment will be used to both measure the scope of the problem in Kentucky and develop strategies to combat it.
Communities should prepare themselves to respond to victims of trafficking and meet their special needs. Police, social workers, health care providers and others are encouraged to seek training to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking. The Division of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services can provide basic human trafficking awareness training and will train more than 65 new recruits and officers with the Lexington police later this month.
Among the main concerns of human trafficking advocates is ensuring the safety of victims. Law enforcement policies and procedures should also be reexamined to ensure victims of human trafficking suffer no further trauma and the crime isn't drive deeper underground by hasty arrests.
Prosecutors and judges, too, need to be aware of the impact of this crime and how well-intended attempts to resolve criminal cases can do more harm than good. In the case of the maid in Northern Kentucky, for instance, forcing her to confront her traffickers in mediation instead of prosecuting the case through traditional means compounds the trauma she has suffered.
It takes remarkable courage to come forward as a trafficking victim and hold abusers accountable in criminal court. The outcome of this case and the massage parlor investigations may determine whether other hidden victims come forward to report their abuse and exploitation.
And, it is our hope that the outcome of these send a clear message that human trafficking is unacceptable in our state.
Victims of trafficking are urged to call toll-free 888-3737-888 for assistance. To report possible trafficking, call 1-888-428-7581. For information about trafficking and training, contact Gretchen Hunt at the Division of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services at 502-564-9433.