Experts: human trafficking is growing problem in Kentuckiana

Marissa Catellanos
Marissa Catellanos
Dr. Theresa Hayden
Dr. Theresa Hayden

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The human trafficking trade may seem like an international issue far away from home. But a WAVE 3 investigation found vulnerable women and children are being forced into lives of prostitution here in Kentucky.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says every minute someone will be bought, sold, or forced into slavery.

It's even harder to think about it happening right here at home, but it is. Last week we brought you the disturbing details of what the feds are calling a multi-state human trafficking network involving Louisville. Obdulio Morales and Esthela Vasquez are accused of running brothels in metro neighborhoods. Until this story broke, we hadn't heard much about this hidden crime.

"It is shocking to me to know how frequently we're seeing this come up in our communities, how often it really truly is happening," said Marissa Catellanos with the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Coalition.

Castellanos works directly with trafficking victims across the state. During her three years with the coalition, she's seen more than 50 cases in Kentucky.

"We've seen that this is happening in large and small communities in Kentucky. Kentucky isn't exempt from the problem even though it doesn't seem like the obvious place," Castellanos said.

Experts say most of the victims are vulnerable women and children. Their ages and backgrounds are different, but the horror is the same.

"Slavery is exactly what this is," Castellanos told us.

The University of Louisville's Department of Justice Administration recognized this as a growing secret and recently added a whole class just on human trafficking. Dr. Theresa Hayden teaches that class.

She explained about half the Kentucky cases are sex trafficking, the other half are labor. Victims are forced to work in restaurants, farms, homes, and hotels.

"It's happening here in Louisville. It's known as one of the hubs for trafficking because of the interstates crossing over," Dr. Hayden said.

If you know someone you think is being trafficked, help them by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. Last year the hotline got more than 100 tips from Kentucky.

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