By now, we must all have in our minds an idea of what human trafficking looks like. We have all heard the story (or variations of the story) about a woman being followed around Wal-Mart by an ethnic looking individual that eventually followed her out to her car in an effort to kidnap her and sell her overseas as a pawn in an international sex slavery ring. Although I have researched these events once I read them on someone's social media post, I cannot find evidence that these occasions have been reported to the police in the counties in which they were supposed to have happened.
What I have found occurring in the surrounding counties have been more disturbing. Along this stretch of I-75, human trafficking is rampant alright, but the perpetrators are not brown-skinned undocumented immigrants from another country and the victims are not necessarily the captains of the cheer squad, valedictorians of their senior class. In January multiple news outlets gave detailed reports of four local men who would find women in the area addicted to opioids and then sell them to other men via craigslist or backpage.com.
These arrests fall in line with a May 2018 Letter to the Editor that I wrote expressing concern that there was a local network in the area preying on our young women's addiction issues and profiting from it. Reading news reports we can see that drug trafficking and sex trafficking can be closely linked together, but I am not sure that the men arrested for these crimes are the "King Pins" of a Southeastern Kentucky sex trafficking ring. Which means the ATF has only scratched the top layer of what could be a more elaborate network. If that is the case, then we still have to be vigilant on educating ourselves and our families on how to be aware of the traps that are being set for vulnerable teens and people with addiction issues.
Polaris is an online company that is leveraging technology to create data-driven effective strategies to help end sex trafficking. Part of their program includes creating a data base of sex trafficking in the United States to teach us what human trafficking really looks like. Human trafficking can happen to anyone but things that increase a person's vulnerability are: involvement in the child welfare system, addiction issues, mental health issues and homelessness. Perpetrators of trafficking are expert in honing in on one of these issues and leveraging an individual's vulnerability to create a dependence.
The crime of human trafficking also doesn't require any relocation on the victim's part. Many can be trafficked from their own homes by their parents, spouse, or close family friend.
Because they are trafficked by people that they know, or come from a situation that makes them vulnerable, victims may initially consent in the trade of a sexual act, but once they are forced, threatened, coerced or intimidated, the crime of human trafficking has occurred. This industry is worth billions and is on target to outpace the sale of illicit drugs in the future.
If you know of someone that has the markings of being trafficked or suspect that it is happening in your area, you can make an anonymous report to Polaris either online or via a toll-free number at 1-888-373-7888. They will forward it on to the proper authorities.
Whitley County, we cannot say that we want a safe, happy community for our children to grow up in and turn a blind eye to the reality that this isn't a safe happy community for other people's children. Being part of a community means being aware, responsible and accountable for the events that take place in the areas in which we live. Now that you are aware that this issue exists, what one thing are you willing to do to make sure we help eliminate it from our community?
Weaver is a 22-year advocate and on the steering committee and co-narrator for the Kentucky Victims Assistance Academy where she was trained on the topic of human trafficking