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Local groups raising awareness about potential of human trafficking during Kentucky Derby

May 5, 2022

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — With the Kentucky Derby just days away, local groups are reminding Louisville residents and visitors of the darker side of the race.

Big events are likely to bring in more human trafficking. While the problem isn’t unique to the Kentucky Derby, experts said events nationwide provide ample opportunity for traffickers. Because of this, local advocacy groups are hoping people will be on the lookout for possible victims.

“The Kentucky Derby and other events, like the Super Bowl, are major events for human trafficking because they have become lucrative business opportunities for traffickers,” said Yamiley Antoine, associate director of Louisville’s Child Advocacy Center.

Antoine said that’s because big events like these draw a lot of out-of-towners to the area. Kentucky, she said, has become a “pass-through state” in the human trafficking pipeline because of its interstate system and high-profile events like the Derby.

“Traffickers want their victims to leave their cities where they’re from to lessen the chance that they would run,” she said.

Other advocacy groups, like The SOAP Project, are also making efforts to raise awareness. Over the weekend, the group labeled thousands of bars of soap and makeup wipes with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and delivered them to 150 hotels and motels in the area, hoping to get a message to victims.

“I never really thought enough about when someone may be alone and then finding out that someone that is a victim that sometimes the only time they’re by themselves is in the restroom,” Michelle Black White, president of the Junior League of Louisville, said.

Black White said this is the first year the Louisville Junior League has volunteered with the SOAP project, and they plan to do it again next year.

“Everybody wants to talk about the beautiful hats and everything about Derby, but there is a dark side to these big events,” she said. “And whenever you have a large number of people coming in, it’s a partying atmosphere, lots of alcohol, that’s when things like human trafficking happen.”

While celebrating Derby, there are are number of signs people can look out for. Antoine said people staying a while with little to no luggage, or having “Do Not Disturb” signs on doors for long periods of time, can be indicators of trafficking.

There are also plenty of things people can watch for during big events.

“For example, minors who don’t know what city or state they’re from, sometimes they have certain brandings or tattoos,” Antoine said. “They seem sometimes physically abused or they’ve been coached and what to say to law enforcement. They don’t have any personal IDs on them and things like that.”

Antoine believes people can still enjoy all of the wonderful things about the Kentucky Derby while also being aware and reporting any signs of human trafficking they may notice to police.

“Hopefully if we can identify those victims to get them the help they need and hopefully get them out of that situation will be really great, ” she said.

In 2021, Kentucky received more than 300 reports of human trafficking involving nearly 380 child victims, according to the Kentucky Cabinet of Health and Human Services. That’s a 50% increase in reports and 61% increase in victims compared to 2020.

For more information about how you can help victims, click here.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.

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