LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Attorney General Andy Beshear joined human trafficking prevention advocates, including law enforcement and survivors, on Monday to urge the community to help stop trafficking at the 145th Kentucky Derby.
Beshear said it is no fault of the Derby, but just a fact: human traffickers target many large-scale sporting events to prey on victims and profit from the crime.
“By raising awareness with partners, our community will be better prepared to stop traffickers this Derby,” said Beshear. “While there is no one single indicator of trafficking, there are several signs that are common in victims, including traveling together, having identical tattoos, branding and not being able to identify where they are or where they are staying.”
Beshear called upon the entire city of Louisville to aid in their efforts to combat human trafficking “to make sure that the sporting event we call we call our own and are proud of, is not tainted,” he said. “We need all Louisvillians and all Kentuckians to stand against human trafficking. This is our community, and this is our Derby.”
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell agreed. “The Kentucky Derby should be an opportunity to celebrate our great city of Louisville, not a time of increased business for the terrible crime that is human trafficking,” he said.
Donna Pollard, founder of Survivors’ Corner, stressed the progress being made to stop the crime around Derby and throughout the year.
“This time of year should be filled with jubilation for everyone in our community, but unfortunately the crowds drawn for these celebratory events are used to enslave and exploit the vulnerable,” Pollard said. “Human trafficking has devastating long term impacts on victims and their families.”
Jennifer Middleton, assistant professor at UofL’s Kent School of Social Work and director of the Human Trafficking Research Initiative, described the new Project Prevention and Intervention for Victims of Trafficking, or PIVOT, aimed at helping improve victim responses. The project is funded through a grant from the Kentucky Children’s Justice Act Task Force.
Middleton said the research team she heads reviewed 95 substantiated cases of alleged child trafficking from 2013 to 2018. Preliminary results show that 87.4 percent of victims were females and the most commonly reported age was 15 years old. Of those children, 78.9% of victims were trafficked by a family member.
“The research being conducted by Project PIVOT regarding child trafficking victims in Kentucky further supports previous research that homelessness and experiencing adversity are some of the most significant factors that make children vulnerable to being trafficked,” she said. “The statistics are alarming, particularly regarding the frequency of involvement of family members in trafficking our children.”
Amy Leenerts, founder and director of Free2Hope, spoke of her organization’s Derby outreach program, which is specifically aimed at helping child victims. “This year Free2Hope is focusing its efforts on our Derby City Traffic Jam, which works to identify and assist runaway and missing kids who are vulnerable to traffickers at all times, but even more so with the increase in demand for commercial sex that large events like Derby inevitably bring."
Anyone who spots potential trafficking is encouraged to call the authorities.