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Sex and labor trafficking is widespread, but research shows the likelihood of it increases around major events that attract large numbers of tourists.

Louisville tourism officials expect more than 270,000 attendees at this weekend’s Kentucky Oaks and Derby events. WFPL’s race and equity reporter Yasmine Jumaa spoke with Pam Darnall, president of the Family and Children’s Place, a regional nonprofit that works to stop this kind of abuse. 

Here are some highlights from that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

How prevalent is human trafficking in Louisville and southern Indiana?

Unfortunately, it is extremely prevalent. One of the reasons Kentucky really is vulnerable to human trafficking, is that we are in that corridor of the interstates: 65, 64, 75 and 71. And so a lot of human trafficking can easily flow through our state. 

For almost two years in a row, the majority of children hurt by human trafficking was in Louisville, Ky. However, the past two years, the highest number has been in the northern Bluegrass area. 

Who are human traffickers most likely to target?

In the state of Kentucky, there are many children who unfortunately fall victim. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Frankfort has data that they put out in a report every single year. In 2021 alone, we had 312 reports of human trafficking involving almost 400 child victims. And if that weren’t bad enough, that is a 50% increase in the number of reports of human trafficking involving children compared to 2020 and a 61% increase in the number of kids and youth. 

Of course, that’s just the reported incidents, these kinds of things are highly under-reported. And I think there are many reasons for that. Just knowing what’s happening and actually getting reports made and people being willing to talk about it can be very difficult. 

Between 2013 and 2020, there were over almost 1,200 reports of human trafficking involving 1,400 child victims. And almost every one, except for about 30 of those almost 1,200 reports, involved child sex trafficking. 

What possible indicators of trafficking should people be aware of?

Some of the indicators can be picked up in conversation, if the person appears to be very rehearsed, and how they speak or what they say. If they literally have no identification with them. If youth, for some reason, cannot contact their friends and family when they would like to. If children or adults appear malnourished, and maybe there are some actual signs of what appears to be physical abuse. The lack of personal possessions and poor physical or dental health.

There’s also some concern about certain tattoos, which could even be branding that might be used on someone’s neck or lower back. Now, a lot of people appreciate different tattoos. It’s a form of art. So, I think the thing to keep in mind is, typically, if we see something that makes us concerned, are there several of these indicators? As opposed to maybe just honing in on one.

What should people do if they suspect they have come into contact with possible victims? And how can people keep themselves and their families safe?

If someone feels that it’s safe, and they might want to try to casually start a conversation, that is OK. We never want anyone to put themselves in any sort of danger. 

Just seeing something, maybe just making a mental note of what you’re seeing, calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline [1-888-373-7888] and giving them the information that you see and what your concerns are. That is always the best thing to do. 

Everyone in the state of Kentucky is mandated to report any concern they have of a child being abused or neglected in any way. We all are required by law to make that report. If there is something that causes us to have a legitimate concern, then it is our job to call the number for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services [1-877-KY-SAFE1 (597-2331)]. 

I think it’s really important for parents to know what their children and youth are involved in, to know what their children are doing online. It’s also really important for the community to understand that some children and youth don’t have a caring parent. About 78% of children and youth who have been impacted by human trafficking, it was at the hands of a family member. So, it’s really important that, as we are in our community, when we see something and it just doesn’t look right, make that report.

I just always encourage people, even if you’re not 100% sure, pick up the phone and make that call. Because we never know what other information may be forthcoming, or what already has been reported. And you could very well have that piece of information that can save that child or that adult

Trafficking prevention and recovery resources in Kentucky

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.