The “most immoral and criminal act” in the state is how a Glasgow Democrat described human trafficking in Kentucky. State Representative and lawyer Johnny Bell said the act of terrorizing vulnerable women and children is proliferated via the Interstate 65 corridor in his district and elsewhere. “Modern day slavery,” is the common euphemism for human trafficking, and it accurately depicts the cruelty of an illegal practice of sexual exploitation and forced labor that’s quickly becoming Kentucky’s fastest growing criminal enterprise.
Today, a House committee exacted a parliamentary move to revive an anti-human trafficking measure (House Bill 3) that was idling in a Senate committee and destined for termination this session.
The House Judiciary Committee attached House Bill 3 to a Senate measure by Senator Brandon Smith dealing with “safe child drop-off areas” in response to a horrific shooting recently at Hazard Community College. The practice of conjoining a measure trapped in political molasses with another bill having momentum in order to move stifled legislation along is called “piggybacking.”
The inertia of HB 3 (up until today) to create a safe harbor for child victims of human trafficking baffles victims’ advocates like MaryLee Perry Underwood and Gretchen Hunt of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs. They have been unyielding in their push to enhance penalties and fines for human traffickers and adopt a “Safe Harbor” statute, as neighboring states Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee have done.
The bill is shepherded in the state legislature by a bi-partisan duo of state representatives: Democrat Sannie Overly of Paris and Republican Addia Wuchner of Florence. The measure cleared the state House on February 15th by a vote of 95 to zero.
Here’s Rep. Sannie Overly giving some background on HB 3 from the House floor last month.
Bill co-sponsorRep. Addia Wuchner read chilling words from a human trafficking victim during floor discussion of HB 3.
House Bill 3 aims to ensure that children who are victims of human trafficking are not arrested for prostitution or a status offense (actions that would not be considered crimes if they were 18 or older). Instead, these traumatized child victims will receive the services that they need rather than arrest and detention. It also aims to bring the “johns” out of hiding by clarifying that buying children for sex is a felony crime with an enhanced penalty.
The bill also makes it possible for law enforcement to seize assets from human traffickers and charges convicted traffickers with fines to create a Human Trafficking Victims Fund.
So how big of a problem is human trafficking in Kentucky? MaryLee Perry Underwood is quick with the answer: “Human trafficking takes place in all sorts of places, like truck stops — where runaways are coerced into commercial sex — and on horse farms and in other industries where workers are forced into slavery under threats of deportation and harm to loved ones,” she says. “Children are trafficked by parents, foster parents, and exploitative adults who convince them that they are their boyfriends,” adds Underwood. According to Underwood, the FBI estimates that one in five persons in prostitution is a child, with the average age of entry into prostitution being between twelve and fourteen years of age.
House Bill 3 appears to have vast support from a wide range of stakeholders: prosecutors, defense attorneys, the state Justice Cabinet, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Commonwealth and County attorneys, Kentucky State Police, the Family Foundation, the Catholic Conference, and Kentucky Youth Advocates.
A statement from Martin Cothran with the Family Foundation of Kentucky says: “The Family Foundation supports this bill because we believe in the sanctity of human life which means protecting all children, from conception to adulthood, from all forms of harm which clearly includes human trafficking.”
House Bill 3 which was attached to a separate, unrelated Senate measure is now bound for a vote by the full House. It will then return to the state Senate for approval or rejection.
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