Kentucky Comes Together to Leverage Efforts Against Human Trafficking

I entered through the doors of Lexington’s Central Sector Roll Call building, and noticed an American flag draped across one wall, while a picture of a badge hung on another. The front hallway led me directly into a conference room that was crowded with 16 people, representing Lexington’s law enforcement and a number of nonprofits. My eyes skimmed the room. Only a few chairs remained open, so I decided to take the seat at the front of the table, next to Lexington’s only Human Trafficking Detective, Rick Lynn.

Rick Lynn was recently offered a position as Detective working in Human Trafficking, a position that had never existed in the Lexington Police Department (LPD) until this year. Since taking on this new role, he has contributed countless of hours studying patterns associated with prostitution and trafficking in and around Lexington. This includes trends on the streets and in hotels, as well as, internet sources like Back Page, Craigslist, and the dark web. Most importantly, he’s asking,What can we do about it?To answer this question, he called for a collaborative meeting between law enforcement and nonprofit service groups.

The eight service groups in attendance all serve victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation. Some provide outreach, counseling, and healthcare and legal services. Others provide housing and rehabilitation. Each group has their own specialty somewhere on the timeline of victim recovery, together forming a bridge for women to crossover and start a new life. These women are given an opportunity to make significant changes in their ability to live life after trauma.

Promptly beginning the meeting, Detective Lynn passes out a training bulletin for everyone to keep, and containing information about a drug called Fentanyl. Never having heard of this, I give my full attention as he explains the power behind this specific drug, and its relatives. “It is 25 to 50 times more potent than Heroin, and can be adapted to mimic Ecstasy,” he told. Alongside Fentanyl, he also describes it’s synthetic variant called Carfentanil. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than Fentanyl, and 10,000 times more potent than Morphine, which means it has power to instantly shut down a person's cardiovascular system via absorption through the skin, resulting in death.

He cautioned, “If you’re searching resident belongings, wear Nitrile gloves.” As he speaks, my mind races and I read along the “Why So Dangerous” section of the bulletin which notes, “Exposure to Fentanyl may be fatal… The size of a few grains of table salt can cause death due to the rapid rate of absorption through the skin.” Returning my focus back to Detective Lynn, he continues, reminding us of its risk to users but, Especially to someone without a tolerance.”

I think to myself, “This is new information.”

Next, Detective Lynn supplies another sheet, this time, not for the keeping. “I’ve been tracking this girl on Backpage,” he says with concern. While he expands, each of us takes a somber look upon the printed advertisement of a female, whose photo suggests she may be younger than 18. The photo features the girl’s arched backside, keeping her identity disclosed, and although she wears silky intimates, most of her skin remains exposed. The online ad reads, “Treat yourself to the innocent beauty, with lips like sugar, curvy features, and eyes that entrance. All American, total sex kitten.” *

I stare at the advertisement and wonder how this girl became a product, with a set price, service, and money back guarantee. Detective Lynn explains a few patterns regarding the Derby, hotels, and how traffickers follow the money trail across Kentucky.

I think to myself once more, “This is new information.”

The detective gives us one final handout. He passes out a printed webpage of Amazon’s bookshop, displaying a book for sale. The cover of the book shows a sleek, sophisticated man, who's dressed in a royal blue suit, and adorned with a gold chain necklace. He sits lounged in a gold throne, that’s lined by a red velvet cushion. His face rests in the palm of his propped arm, as he gazes into the distance. “Pimpology: The 48 Laws of the Game,” Detective Lynn says, as he reads the title of the book. “Pimps are using this book to learn how to manage and control girls. It’s all in here. Anything! From keeping them in debt to you, to intimidating them into submission,” he informs.

I read the book’s online description, provided in the printout,“Ken Ivy reveals the unwritten rules that took him from the ghetto streets to the executive suites.” I shake my head in disbelief and tuck it away in my folder, because it’s too much.

Again thinking, “This is new information.”

Within five minutes of the meeting’s initiation, I had already been overwhelmed by learning of new and pressing information. I knew this was the purpose of Detective Lynn’s meeting, because when we come together we are stronger, more informed, and best efficient.

In his army green pants, and standard black collared LPD shirt, Detective Lynn stands up. He walks towards the white board, that's hung parallel to the crowded conference table, and picks up an Expo marker. “Our arrest approach on prostitution isn't working” he declares, while drawing a circle on the board to represent one single sex worker.

"If I write a girl a ticket, for $300, that is 10 tricks* she has to turn to pay off the ticket. We know these girls are the victims, so this approach isn’t working. It isn’t good for anyone,“ he explains.

He then draws smaller circles around the first one. “We’re changing our approach. We don’t want to go after the girls anymore, we want to go after these guys,” he instructs, as he points to the surrounding circles. “For one girl, there are countless pimps and Johns. Let’s go after them, and let’s help the girls.”

The following conversation expanded on what he meant. Detective Lynn explained that by arresting the contributors, the fines these perpetrators will pay can go towards funding women to enter into recovery and rehabilitative programs.

During one of Detective Lynn’s new approaches, called a prostitution sting, human trafficking service partners are introduced to the sex workers. This strategy ultimately avoids jail time for the women, while meeting their needs, and providing a way out. “We know some girls need a hand up, and other girls need you to hold their hand. We’re not going to walk away from them. We understand the girls on the streets are victims.” He said.

He includes,“We're trying to change our approach so we aren't criminalizing them. We're trying to get them out of the trade. For example, in September we did a prostitution sting. We found 12 girls, we told them if they came willingly we wouldn't charge them. We brought them to dinner, and they sat among several Lexington nonprofits who gave them food and supplies. The next week, 4 of those girls called and asked for rehab. This is unheard of.”

Under Detective Lynn’s leadership, the LPD has made this strategy a regular tactic. Along with other service groups, one of Refuge for Women’s own staff attends these face-to-face stings, in order to connect with the women personally, to offer an escape.This is an opportunity that most sex workers and trafficking victims never get.

Ending the meeting, Detective Lynn asked each person to brainstorm on a collaborative project, for a holistic approach towards combating human trafficking. He revealed his vision for the non-profit service groups and law enforcement, expressing how we could rally together our resources, skills, and information. We’re proud to report that Lexington is not alone in this revolutionary attack. Kentucky as a whole is catching on and coming up with successful solutions.

Last month, Kentucky was one of five states selected to receive a $1.5 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.* Over the next three years, this grant will go towards implementing innovative solutions to address human trafficking across the Commonwealth. The grant will be used in partnership with the Louisville Attorney General office and Catholic Charities to fund a special human trafficking investigator and a statewide manager to coordinate the task force, to collect research and data, expand training for law enforcement and prosecutors and more.

Kentucky is leading the nation in innovative trafficking solutions by bringing nonprofits together with law enforcement, penalizing the clients and aiding victims. Perhaps best phrased by Lexington Chief of Police, Mark Barnard, “Everything is interconnected. You have to break it down and not paint with a broad brush. … We want to look at the underlying issues of prostitution. What is occurring, why is it occurring, look for the underlying issues and help. We push this aside a lot because we think prostitution is a victimless crime. When, in fact, disease, crime, abuse, upbringing, mental health, poverty, and many other societal variables cultivate a life that makes someone perfect, vulnerable prey for trafficking and exploitation."*

While Kentucky takes the lead in combating human trafficking in our state and nation, it is critical that we look ahead. As the government and law enforcement increase their efforts to target offenders and identify more victims, we will see a dramatic rise in identified victims. More than ever before we must expand the number of trafficking recovery service groups and treatment centers. This is an urgent need and must be addressed now, these victims will need safe homes and specialized recovery centers.

Together, with your advocacy and financial support, we can leverage our collaborative efforts and the advantage of this grant to best address trafficking. Together, we can bring victims into healing and recovery. Let’s come together Kentucky.

Notes and Sources:

*Disclaimer: The description of the Backpage advertisement is not provided from a real Backpage advertisement. The description was originally composed by our writers for the sole purpose of providing an example of what might be found on a Backpage advertisement. It is created only as a resemblance of a Backpage ad for escorts. No real quote is provided in order to protect any ongoing investigations pertaining to specific ads.

*The term “turning a trick” refers to performing a sexual act for money.

*Chief of Police Mark Barnard quote: http://www.refugeforwomen.org/blog/2016/10/19/chief-for-the-marginalized-lexington-police-are-holistically-approaching-prostitution-and-trafficking

*U.S. Department of Justice Grant Award: http://therecordnewspaper.org/catholic-charities-attorney-general-win-trafficking-grant/