The growing crime of children being enslaved for labor and sexual exploitation is prompting attempts to increase the penalties for human trafficking in Kentucky. It was announced mid-week in the Capitol rotunda that Paris Democrat Sannie Overly would introduce House Bill 350 to put an end to trafficking of children by increasing penalties and prison sentences. Under the proposal, sexual exploitation of minors would be upgraded from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony; and fines would spike form $500 to $10,000. Seizure and asset forfeitures provisions would be added to human trafficking offenses, much like what’s done in drug offenses, Overly explained.
“It provides a mechanism to make victims whole when they are forced to labor without wages or are the victim of wage theft. Those additional fines and penalties, those seizures of assets will go into a fund that will help law enforcement, prosecutors, and victims’ rights groups provide services to victims of human trafficking,” says Overly.
Marissa Castellanos, program manager of the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking project with Catholic Charities of Louisville, says there are 67 documented cases of the crime over the last four years in Kentucky, with 135 victims (some from other states) receiving services. Her group has helped those victims with housing, therapy, and medical care.
According to Castellanos, just over half the victims trafficked in Kentucky were trafficked for sex, which includes repeated rape and other abuses and often leads to commercial sexual activities such as prostitution, pornography, stripping and other types of sexual slavery. Castellanos spoke of young children and teenagers swapped as sex slaves, one child as young as six. Sexual exploitation is half the problem, the other half is women, immigrants, and children being forced to work for meager or no wages at all.
The Chief Deputy Attorney General for Kentucky, Patrick Hughes, relayed the importance of fighting human trafficking in the AG’s office and how the legislation empowers the office to do more. He spoke of the growing incidence of criminals scouring the internet to trade children as property.
“Like legitimate businesses that have embraced technology and the Internet to sell their products, unfortunately, so have these horrendous criminals, particularly to use children for sex crimes, pornography, and labor, and they profit from that,” Hughes said.
House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley of Hopkinsville co-sponsors House Bill 350, which will likely be considered by Tilley’s committee. The effort has drawn 45 co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle.
On Connections with Renee Shaw later this month, I will sit down with advocates and bi-partisan duo of legislators to discuss sexual assault and human trafficking issues.
In March, Georgetown College is hosting the first conference on human trafficking in Kentucky. The conference, March 22 to 24, will raise awareness and deliver advocacy methods.
Learn more about human trafficking and House Bill 350 from the February 1st edition of Legislative Update and watch for my program on the issue Friday, Feb 24, at 5 pm on KET2 and Sunday, Feb 26, at 1:30 pm on KET.