The secret world of human trafficking in the Bluegrass

By: Melissa Etezadi Email
By: Melissa Etezadi Email

According to UNICEF, an estimated one million children are forced to work in the global sex industry every year. A booming market that generates more than $39 billion in profit annually, and is described as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

"The national average of a girl being trafficked in the U.S. is between 12-14 years old" explains Sandra Savage, a survivor of the sex industry. "I worked in the industry for 13 years, and in those years I saw things that I can't even describe." Savage, a native of Mount Sterling, who says she worked in the U.S. and internationally. "I never worked directly with anyone underage but the truth is, most of the people in this industry are. A lot of people want to think this kind of stuff only happens overseas but it's happening right here in Lexington."

Just last year, Berea Police arrested Anthony Wayne Hart and his wife Kathy for trafficking their two teenage daughters. They say the two attempted to sell the girls inside a Richmond movie theater, as well as at grocery stores and restaurants throughout Rockcastle County, Somerset, Danville and Fayette County.

According the DNA foundation, this underground industry is more profitable than drug trafficking and weapons.

"There is a demand in our communities for women and children's bodies for sex," explains Marissa Castellanos, Human Trafficking Program Manager for Kentucky Rescue and Restore. "It is the drive that funds this industry and makes it a growing problem. People think that sex trafficking looks like one thing, however the truth is it looks like a lot of different things." Castellanos explains that throughout the years, "human sex trafficking has evolved from people walking the streets to people posting ads on the web. Now a days, transactions can be made behind computer screens where no one can see you which makes it easier for predators."

According to Castellanos, many traffickers make fake ads on the internet for their victims as a way to sell them. She explains that many times, "they write the ads in such a way that it sounds appealing to the buyer. However, it's actually not written by the girl, it's written by the trafficker or the pimp who is selling her. For the traffickers and buyers this hasn't been a risky business for them. It's been very high profit and very low risk."

That is why Castellanos, Savage and others are presenting House Bill 350 before the state. The measure would strengthen punishment for human trafficking and help victims with recovery. It would also create a new Kentucky State Police unit to investigate human trafficking rings and promote better training for law enforcement and victims' advocates.

"From the initial onset of someone being trafficked their life expectancy is seven years. So, if you're 13-years-old when you get in, you're dead by 20," explains Savage.

According to Castellanos, there have been 67 cases of human trafficking and 12 indictments in Kentucky since 2007. There have yet to be any convictions on charges related to human trafficking. Just another reason why Castellanos says law enforcement needs more education, resources and tools to address human trafficking in our state.

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