Human trafficking is a growing problem in Kentucky and across the country, according to the leader of the commonwealth's effort to raise awareness on the issue and combat it.
Allyson Cox Taylor, executive director of Kentucky's Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention and Prosecution, Wednesday gave the Rotary Club of Paducah an overview of human trafficking and what communities can do to address the problem.
The way human trafficking is often depicted in movies and on television is different from what is seen in Kentucky, Taylor said.
"Who here has seen 'Taken' or a Lifetime Movie Network movie about human trafficking?" she asked. "Dump all that out of your brain ... because none of that is what human trafficking really is in Kentucky."
In Kentucky it can be "labor trafficking on our farms, labor trafficking in a lot of our restaurants and cosmetic-type industries. Massage parlors, obviously, but also traveling sales crews which are kids who go around and sell magazines and candy in the summers," she said. "And, of course, kids (being involved) in the sex industry."
Human trafficking was the third largest criminal syndicate in the U.S. behind the drug trade and gun trade, Taylor said, but it "has now gone up to No. 2, and I anticipate it will go up to No. 1."
Sex trafficking alone is a $32 billion money-making industry, she said, and most victims are U.S. citizens.
"The average age of entry into prostitution for commercial sex is 12 to 14," Taylor said. "We know the most at-risk kids are the runaways, or foster kids that often run away. They're the ones traffickers and those that prey on kids consider because nobody's looking for them."
Those kids often are coerced into sex as a way just to survive "and before they know it they're pulled into the industry," she said. "We know that one in three kids will start to participate in survival sex within 48 hours of being on the streets."
According to Taylor, "The internet has opened up those at-risk groups far beyond the foster kids and runaways. Anybody who has access to the internet is at risk of being recruited into human trafficking."
The office Taylor leads has received a $1.5 million grant to address human trafficking. In addition, all of the statewide tips on reported abuses go to the office. Taylor travels the state to provide training for businesses, organizations and local police and prosecutors.
The majority of children involved in sex trafficking are female, while the majority of children involved in labor trafficking are male. One reason the number of cases being investigated is growing is because more people know how to identify it, Taylor said.
"What you really must know is that, by law, every one of us has an obligation to report it if we suspect involvement in commercial sex activity," she said.
Taylor's office handled 20 trafficking-related cases in 2017, 25 percent of which were labor, 70 percent were sex, and 5 percent a mixture of the two, such as massage parlors.
"I think once people realize it is happening, and what it looks like, they're very interested in figuring out how they can get involved and help someone."