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Child Sex Trafficking (CST) in Kentucky 

In Child Abuse and Neglect
In 2021, Kentucky had the nation’ s highest child abuse and neglect rate for the third consecutive year.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2021

Nation-Wide in Substance Use
Kentucky is also on the front line of the substance use epidemic, ranking fourth nation-wide for overdose deaths.

National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020

Family conflict, violence and instability, poverty, and substance use are major issues impacting Kentucky families.3 In 2021, Kentucky had the nation’s highest child abuse and neglect rate for the third consecutive year.Kentucky is also on the front line of the substance use epidemic (opioids and methamphetamines), ranking fourth nation-wide for overdose deaths.4 Unfortunately, these conditions create ideal opportunities for trafficking to occur. 

Although CST happens every day in Kentucky, it is preventable.

CST is a significant public health threat given its health consequences and costs. In Kentucky, familial sex trafficking is a common form of CST and is compounded by the opioid epidemic and drug use. CST victimization can have lasting and severe effects on survivors’ development and wellbeing; notably, post-traumatic stress and other mental health disorders, suicidality, substance use, and continued sexual exploitation into adulthood. 6-7

Many children who experience CST are victimized starting between ages 11 and 14.8 Thus, CSTOP Now! leverages the power of middle school staff to see, stop, and prevent incidences of CST across the Bluegrass State. 

We believe that CST CAN be prevented, and that we ALL have a role to play in preventing it.

Risks and Warning Signs

What Might Increase a Person’s Vulnerability to Sex Trafficking?

  • Misusing substances or having a caregiver or family member with a substance dependence problem
  • Lack of stable living conditions or inconsistent caregiving
  • Prior exposure to child maltreatment and violence  
  • Truancy
  • History of running away or having whereabouts unaccounted for
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Identifying as LGBTQIA+

Warning Signs a Child/Youth is Involved in Sex Trafficking

  • Meetings with contacts they developed on social media or the internet including sex partners or boyfriends/girlfriends.
  • Sexually explicit photos of the child are posted on the internet, social media or on their phone.
  • Receiving material items they cannot afford (e.g. credit cards, hotel keys, gifts, transportation) or that are inappropriate (i.e. drugs and/or alcohol).
  • Having a relationship to people who are exploited, or who buy or sell sex (could be family members).
  • Reports from reliable sources about the child/youth’s involvement in sex trafficking (e.g. prostitution, nude modeling, visits to commercial sex clubs, serving as an escort).

Myth vs. Facts About Child Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is always violent. There can be violence involved in trafficking, but traffickers do not always use physical force; rather, they may rely on psychological means such as tricking, defrauding, manipulating, or threatening victims into providing commercial sex.
Only undocumented foreign nationals get trafficked in the United States. Thousands of cases have involved foreign national sex and labor trafficking survivors legally living and/or working in the U.S.
Only women and girls can be victims and survivors of sex trafficking. LGBTQ boys and young men are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. While male victims are less likely to be identified, estimates are as high as half of sex trafficking victims and survivors are male.
Sex trafficking involves moving, traveling, or transporting a person across state or national borders. Human smuggling involves border crossings. Sex trafficking does not require any movement. Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their hometowns or even their own homes.
All commercial sex is sex trafficking. If a minor is involved, commercial sex is sex trafficking. If an adult is involved, it is human trafficking if the adult providing commercial sex is doing so against their will due to force, fraud, or coercion.
If the trafficked person consented to be in their initial situation, then it cannot be human trafficking or against their will because they “knew better.” Original consent to commercial sex or labor setting before force, fraud, or coercion is not relevant in the case of minors. The law says minors cannot legally consent due to age, development, and status.
People being trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations/locked in/held against their will. This could be true, however youth involved in sex trafficking may stay for more complicated reasons. Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out (transportation or a safe place to live). For some youth, the trafficker is a family member and they feel there are no other options for them. Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify as being under the control of another person.
Traffickers target victims they don’t know. Survivors can be trafficked by partners, spouses, family members, and even parents.

Know How to Make a Report

  1. Call 911 if the child is in immediate danger. If the child is in immediate danger, call 911 to access emergency services.
  2. Make a report to the Department of Community Based Services. Pursuant to KRS 620.030, Kentucky is a mandated reporter state meaning that suspected trafficking of a minor MUST be immediately reported to the Cabinet. You may call the Child Protection Hotline (1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331) or use the Kentucky Child/Adult Protective Services Reporting System website ( 
  3. Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. You may also contact the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). This toll-free hotline is available to take reports of suspected human trafficking and can assist with notification of law enforcement and locating services for victims. You may also submit an anonymous report through their on-line reporting form ( 
  4. If the child is a foreign national or has resided in another state during the past year the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative at Catholic Charities of Louisville (502-974-4941) may be helpful.    

Resources for Parents

Reach out for Mental Health Supports for Yourself and Others

New Vista Community Mental Health Center

  • 24-hour Mental Health Helpline: 1-800-928-8000 (telehealth available)

Crisis Text Line: Text "HOME" to 741741 to connect to a trained crisis counselor

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP)

Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky

Toolkit for Building a Human Trafficking School Safety Protocol

Academic References

Click here to access article references

  1. Basile KC, DeGue S, Jones K, Freire K, Dills J, Smith SG, Raiford JL. (2016). STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Coker AL, Bush HM, Cook-Craig PG, DeGue SA, Clear ER, Brancato CJ, Fisher BS, Recktenwald EA, RCT Testing Bystander Effectiveness to Reduce Violence, Am J Preventive Medicine, 2017; 52(5):566-578.
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019.
  4. NIDA. 2020, April 3. Kentucky: Opioid-Involved Deaths and Related Harms. Retrieved on April 26, 2021.
  5. Talk Poverty (2020). Kentucky State Statistics.
  6. Sprang, G., & Cole, J. (2018). Familial Sex Trafficking of Minors: Trafficking Conditions, Clinical Presentation, and System Involvement. Journal of Family Violence, 33, 185-195. 
  7. Cole J, Sprang G. Safe harbor law: Pre- to post-implementation change in service providers’ knowledge and response to sex trafficking of minors, Journal of Crime and Justice, 2020, Doi: 10.1080/0735648X.2019.1690548.
  8. U.S. Department of Homeland Security & U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Human Trafficking 101 for School Administrators and Staff [Fact sheet].…
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