Sometimes the full impact of legislation takes a while to show. With addressing human trafficking, the positive impact for children of the legislation passed in 2013 appeared in the numbers as early as last fall, with the Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) starting to receive reports. Legislation championed by Representatives Sannie Overly, John Tilley, Addia Wuchner and Senator Whitney Westerfield in the 2013 session changed state law to ensure victims of trafficking, especially children exploited in commercial sex, are treated as victims rather than as criminals and are given access to healing services.
Many stakeholders came together and committed to handling these cases differently. DCBS stepped up to investigate reports, even when the trafficker is not a relative, and children are now getting needed services. Law enforcement officers are receiving training and helping redirect children to services. In the past, these children would’ve likely been arrested and jailed instead of being treated as victims of a crime. Just since the law went into effect last summer, DCBS has received 74 reports of human trafficking, with reports coming from each of the 9 regions of the state.
This legislative session, lawmakers took another step to protect victims of human trafficking. Senator Morgan McGarvey sponsored SB 184, which will clear human trafficking victims’ criminal records of non-violent charges that were the result of being trafficked. Just last week, Governor Beshear signed that bill into law. The new law will protect victims from having a criminal record from being a victim of human trafficking follow them.
The human trafficking work undertaken in Kentucky over that past couple years shows the power of people coming together to tackle an issue. The best news from that work is that children are already being positively impacted.