Conference held to educate people about human trafficking

Leaders across Louisville are banding together to combat human trafficking in the area.

Dozens gathered Tuesday at the Frazier Museum for a human-trafficking summit.

The summit was organized by Catholic Charities of Louisville after the organization came in contact with a number of victims forced into sex slavery.

Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad said it’s a real issue in the Derby City, and one his department is working to combat.

“Because Louisville is located on some major highways and we know there is a lot of travel involved in some trafficking cases, it is quite easy for traffickers to drive from Indy to Louisville to Nashville and back and forth again and again,” said Marissa Castellanos with Catholic Charities.

It’s an issue local law enforcement officers notice more during big events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Farm Machinery Show.

LMPD works with the FBI to fight the crime and has created its own task force. So far this year at events in Louisville, police have arrested more than 50 prostitutes and more than 10 people for promoting prostitution.

The number of human-trafficking victims found across the state so far this year is 332. Most are women and children and many were trafficked for sex.

“That is just the identified number, and we believe there are so many more that never get identified in any way and still continue to be exploited right now,” Castellanos said.

It’s a multimillion-dollar industry mostly facilitated on the Internet, and the number of people paying to have sex with children is surprising to some.

“The reason this industry survives is because it is patronized by people who stereotype. Overwhelmingly, people who buy kids for sex have wives and children at home, are prominent and respected members of the community,” former CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Ernie Allen said. “A lot of these kids, because they are initially runaways or throwaways or come out of the child welfare system, they don’t have a parent looking for them. (They) need to survive on the street. They are easy marks for people offering shelter, sustenance, friendship, even love.”

Kentucky passed a law that provides safe harbor for children arrested for sex in prostitution rings.

The law says they should not be charged criminally because they are victims.