An FBI agent in Kentucky says human trafficking is now the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world, and it’s expected to eclipse drug-running in a few years.
Special Agent Michael Brown, who is based in Owensboro, says sex and labor trading are occurring in cities large and small throughout the commonwealth.
In a speech Wednesday to the Bowling Green Noon Rotary Club, Brown said he investigated a case in Henderson in 2014 where two girls were willingly prostituting themselves in order to earn money to buy a car.
"It wasn't going as fast as they thought it would, so they reached out on Facebook and other social media sites, advertising their activity," recalled Brown. "A trafficker named Jathar Williams reached out to them, and within a couple of days, he was prostituting them, taking their money, and threatening them with physical harm if they did not work. He was also preparing them for drug trafficking."
Williams was sentenced to ten years in prison. Brown says the girls went with their trafficker willingly for the promise of a better life, which is common in sex trafficking.
In another case prosecuted in 2012, an Elizabethtown physician and his wife enticed an illegal immigrant from Bolivia to come the U.S. and subjected her to domestic servitude for more than a decade.
Brown says it’s difficult to know the prevalence of human trafficking in Kentucky. The FBI estimates there are about 20 cases a year in the commonwealth, but non-profit groups that work with victims of sex or labor trading put the number much higher.
"Catholic Charities and other non-governmental organizations are not going to do investigations," Brown explained. "They are told stories and that's the information they use."
A candlelight vigil honoring victims of human trafficking will be held in Bowling Green Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.