The Kentucky Derby is often associated with roses, mint juleps and million-dollar horses, but some residents have a darker association with Louisville’s largest sporting event—human trafficking.
More than 20 million people worldwide are forced involved in forced labor, though it is difficult to determine how many people are forced into labor as a result of human trafficking because of the underground nature of the industry, according to data provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The numbers tend to spike during large sporting events, like the Kentucky Derby, said Julie Driscoll, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth—a group that works to bring justice for those in poverty and oppressed women.
“Because the pimps come in with all the other crowd and they make a killing,” she said.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth hosted a vigil in downtown Louisville earlier this week to help raise awareness about human trafficking at the Kentucky Derby, nearly 50 people joined.
Driscoll said human trafficking is one of the most lucrative and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.
“It is worth more than $30 billion a year, which means that last year it made more than Nike, Google and Starbucks,” she said. “So, it’s huge.”
Amy Nace-Degonda, a case manager for Catholic Charities human trafficking program, said it is difficult to put an exact number on the amount of people in Louisville that are involved in human trafficking, but by studying the data of arrests and convictions, it helps get an idea of the local impact.
According to data provided by Rescue and Restore, an organization that works with victims of human trafficking, 160 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Kentucky. Of those, 94 were children and the youngest victim was reported as being 2 months old.
Driscoll said the groups that work to fight human trafficking don’t try to send a message that Louisville’s issue with human trafficking is worse than every other city. “It’s happening here every day,” she said.
And Nace-Degonda said the most effective way to put an end to the problem is through “outreach” and “education.”
“Educating people is important because people become aware of the problem and figure out ways to help,” she said.
As WFPL previously reported, the Redlight Project, an organization working to combat human trafficking, is looking for volunteers to help spot potential during Derby time.
For more information on the project and to get information on how to sign up, click here.