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Nearly 1,700 calls, emails, and other correspondence about trafficking in Kentucky have been made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline since 2007Kentucky received a grade of B this year on its human trafficking laws from Shared Hope International, an organization that focuses on sex trafficking.

Social workers, local politicians, law enforcement and other Kentuckians met this week for a day-long conference that focused on human trafficking. Angela Renfro attended the conference. She’s the founder of the Kristy Love Foundation, which serves women, including survivors of trafficking. She’s also a survivor.

“We take it to the street,” she said. “We call it the underground world of trafficking while you’re sleeping at night. Between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., when everybody sleeping at night, that’s when the little girls walk the street.”

Renfro said her organization has helped more than 700 people in Kentucky.

Thirty-three human trafficking cases in Kentucky were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline this year. Many survivors of human trafficking are reminded of their ordeal by tattoos forced upon them by their captors. 

Allyson Cox Taylor, director of Kentucky’s Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention and Prosecution, said her office is working with tattoo parlors to help survivors cover up the marks.

“If you think about the impact that having someone else’s ownership built into your skin, whether that’s through a tattoo or a brand, every time you look into the mirror you’re always reminded of the subjugated position you’ve been put in,” she said. “So even long after they’ve escaped the life, it’s a reminder, a daily reminder of the person who victimized them.”

In November, Attorney General Andy Beshear launched a campaign that aims to get hotel workers to participate in training to help them recognize trafficking and report it.

In 2016, the Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention and Prosecution received a $1.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to address trafficking. The grant is shared with Catholic Charities of Louisville and would be distributed over three years.    

Jeanne Smoot is Senior Counsel for Policy & Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, a national advocacy group that serves immigrant women and girls affected by violence. She said there is a possible link between trafficking and child marriage.

“America has a significant child marriage problem,” she said. “I think many people are surprised actually to learn that it’s not already age 18, no exceptions, as the minimal legal marriage age all around the country.”

Twenty-seven states have no minimum age requirements, according to the Tahirih Justice Center.

“The laws are not set out for child protection,” said Smoot. “They don’t consider the potential for abuse and exploitation that we see in our work every day can lurk behind an underaged marriage license.”

The International Labour Organization says globally, there are nearly 21 million victims of human trafficking; 55 percent of those affected are women and girls.

‘Our politicians need to know that our girls and women are being bought and sold,” said Angelo Renfro with the Kristy Love Foundation. “And [that it’s] not just something we read or see in the movies.”

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.